Category Archives: Uncategorized

5 Tips for Strong Passwords

A strong password can make the difference between a secure online account and your information being sold across the internet.  Most sites now have strict requirements that passwords meet a certain level of strength, usually by requiring a certain number of characters and including capital letters, numbers, or special characters.  If you feel a bit overwhelmed by all this, you’re not alone. Here are a few tips for creating strong passwords.

  1. Use phrases instead of words.  The more characters, the stronger your password.  So use a full phrase like 6RosesinMyGarden! or Familyof3?Dogs instead of trying to stretch out a single word. 
  2. Sprinkle your numbers and special characters throughout your password.  It’s very common to tack a number or special character onto the end of a password (who hasn’t ended a password with 1!), but that makes it easier to hack.  Remember that you can put numbers and special characters anywhere in your passphrase.
  3. There are more than two special characters!  Sure, the exclamation and question marks are the easiest to think of, but there are lots more special characters to choose from.  Some sites don’t allow use of “@” or commas in passwords, but you can almost always use “$” or “&”.  That ampersand can be especially useful in creating longer phrases you can easily remember.
  4. Don’t use significant dates.  Never use your birthday, your kids’ birthdays, your age, or the current year in a password.  The only exception there is if you use a system that requires you to change your password regularly, in which case you might use the current year when you reset it.
  5. Archaic words are a good choice, too!  Lots of archaic words are long and many are such fun to say that you won’t forget them.  Words like “snollygoster”, “fandangle”, or “rapscallion” can make great foundations for passwords and are unlikely to be on any list of often-hacked choices.  If you’re especially literary-minded, try a Shakespearean insult generator for some fun ideas.  

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Spotting Modern Online Scams

We’ve all been using the internet for so long now that we fancy ourselves pretty savvy about potential scams.  After all, nobody would believe the old “Nigerian prince” thing anymore and we all know not to open emails from unfamiliar email addresses, right?  Surely we’re all safe.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case.  As the public has become better informed and more careful online, scammers have gotten more inventive.  There are new scams out there that you need to be aware of.

There’s free wi-fi everywhere these days.  It’s become so common that we expect it from restaurants, bars, and other businesses.  Some ISPs even set up public hotspots on their own.  However, bad actors can set up those innocent-looking hotspots, too.  And once you connect to them, your data is ripe for the picking.  A little common sense goes a long way in this situation.  Make sure you know the network you’re connecting to and make it a rule to never do any shopping or banking over a public wi-fi connection.  For extra protection, you might consider getting a VPN to safeguard your private information.

The tried and true pop-up is still out there, waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting.  Sometimes, you’ll see the old warning that your computer is infected (click on that and it certainly will be!), but modern pop-ups tend to be ads that then redirect you to a dangerous site.  Hopefully, your antivirus will catch the redirect and block the threat, but an ad blocker is a more reliable way to keep pop-ups off your screen. 

The newest email scams are designed to look legitimate and use subject lines that scare you into acting before you think.  A couple of examples include messages with the headline “Your Paypal account has been suspended” or “Your Apple ID has been locked”.  Both of these common scams come from senders that show up as “Paypal” or “Apple”.  But the sender name to anything when an email account is created.  When you hover over the sender name, you see the full email address is nowhere near real.  Keep calm, don’t lose your head, and always check the email before you open any email that says your account is in trouble.

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How to clear your Google search history

One of the more disturbing trends on the internet is the phenomenon of targeted advertising.  After you search for something, suddenly you find ads for your search on every page you visit, sometimes for days or even weeks at a time. 

This is all thanks to Google.  When you use Google’s search engine, it collects that information and curates the ads you see from various retailers and service providers.  If that thought bothers you, not to worry!  You can clear your Google search history with a few simple steps.

There are two methods for clearing your search history.

Method 1:

  1. Go to myactivity.google.com 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”.

Method 2:

  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 isn’t strictly necessary, but it will keep Google from being able to target your ads.  Not only that, regularly clearing your search history will also help keep your internet activity private and protect your personal information. 

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Clearing Your Cache

One of the simplest and most effective procedures for troubleshooting your internet issues is clearing your browser cache.  This operation can speed up loading time, correct browser errors, and it usually fixes that annoying problem when the site you use all the time suddenly won’t load.  The words “clear your cache” strike fear in a lot of people, but it’s really very simple.  Here’s an example of how to clear your cache using the world’s most widely used browser, Chrome.

To clear your cache, first open up the browser menu by clicking on the three dots in the upper right corner of your browser window.  In that window, choose “History” – this will open up a side menu where you’ll click on “History” again to open a new browser tab.

In this new tab, look on the left side of the screen and click on “Clear browsing data” (don’t worry, you’ll get to choose what you clear and what you keep).  This will bring up a pop-up window that gives you a lot of options.

First, choose your time frame.  The default choice is the last seven days, but you can change it to as little as the last hour, as much as the last four weeks, or even “all time”.  Seven days is usually sufficient, but if you’ve never cleared your cache before, you might start at four weeks.

Below that, you’ll see three check boxes noting the data that you can clear.  These will include “browsing history”, which means the URLs of all the websites you’ve visited, “cookies and other site data”, which will clear any saved login information or account settings, and “cached images and files”, which are pieces of information that your browser has kept to pre-load various websites.  This last option, “cached images and files”, is what you want to clear, so you can uncheck the other two boxes.

Then just click on the “clear data” button at the bottom, and you’re done!  Close and re-open your browser, and see how much faster and easier your websites load.  If you were having trouble with a specific site not loading, this will likely fix the issue.  And you didn’t even have to call tech support!

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Get the Most Wi-Fi Out of Your Router

Everyone wants to have the fastest internet service possible.  With a typical home using a few phones, a couple of computers, a tablet or two, and often a TV streaming device as well, it’s crucial to make the most of your home Wi-Fi network.  Naturally, the first step is getting a high quality router that can handle all the traffic your family will push through it.  But after that, there are other steps you can take to optimize your home Wi-Fi.

First, choose the best location for your router.  You want to put your router at roughly the center of your home, so as to spread the signal as far as possible to every room.  Next, when you configure your router, make sure that you use a secure password so that no unknown traffic can slow down your connection.  If you’re comfortable with customizing your configuration, you might want to enable “Quality of Service” (QoS) to help prioritize traffic.

Where you can, make use of the Ethernet ports on your router.  Any hardwired connection, like a printer or a desktop computer, will take some of the load off your Wi-Fi, leaving more wireless bandwidth for your other devices.  And don’t forget to reboot your router every so often to keep it running at its best.  Just like you reboot your devices now and then to keep them running well, unplug or power off your router occasionally, especially if your connection seems sluggish.

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Best Practices for Strong Passwords

Strong passwords are the best way to keep your information safe online.  But what exactly does it mean to have a “strong password”?  A strong password is one that is not easily guessed or hacked, which takes more work than you might think.  Here are some best practices for keeping your passwords strong.

Longer passwords are stronger.  Some security professionals recommend using 16 characters if possible, but that can get hard to remember.  Generally, using 8-12 characters that contain a mix of capital letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters is pretty strong.  Remember that each character you add to your password makes it a full order of magnitude harder to crack – that’s a great reason to add one more number or letter!

Don’t use dictionary words.  Many password-cracking tools are set up to run through lists of common words, so using a random password generator is better.  And remember that “password” doesn’t mean you have to use a single word! A good way to get length and complexity in your passwords is by using a three or four-word phrase.  You can add numbers and special characters into that and have a password that’s easily remembered but near impossible to guess.

Although it might seem a good idea, don’t base your passwords on names of family members or birthdates.  These are fairly innocuous bits of information that anyone might pick up, and that would give them a way into your accounts. 

Lastly, avoid clusters of numbers or special characters.  A grouping of four numbers suggests a year; six numbers together imply a birthday.  Anywhere numbers or symbols are grouped together makes it easier for your password to be hacked.

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Declutter Your Online Life

With the new year upon us, many people are looking to declutter their homes and lives.  While you’re clearing out your cabinets and donating old clothes, you might take some time to declutter your online life as well.

Take a look at your inbox.  There are probably quite a few emails you receive every week that you delete automatically.  Maybe you signed up for a mailing list in exchange for a discount on an order, or you thought you’d be really into that newsletter of crochet patterns, but over time you just forgot about them.  Why not take a few minutes to go through those and unsubscribe?  Thanks to GDPR laws from the EU, almost all online mailing lists now offer a one-click unsubscribe process, so it’s not a hassle.

Check out your online service subscriptions as well.  How many streaming services do you actually use?  Are there any you could cut?  Are you paying for the premium version of an app or service when the free version would suit you just as well?  Taking inventory of your subscriptions can save you some money after the expensive holiday season.

The new year is also a great time to go over all your privacy settings.  Check all your social media profiles to make sure your posts are visible to the people you want and not to anyone you wouldn’t want to see them.  Google has recently made it possible for you to control your data privacy with several settings that you can access through your Gmail or Google account.  Take the time to go through all of these settings, because there’s more of your data out there than you may think.

Enjoy your streamlined online life in the new year!

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Online Habits You Should Break

Even if you consider yourself pretty internet-savvy, you might not be as careful as you could be.  So much of our lives happens online now that it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself and your data.  Here are some of the most common bad online habits and some tips on how to break them. 

  1. Using the Same Password Across Multiple Sites

This may be the most common bad online habit anywhere.  When nearly every site requires a login and password, it’s tough to remember separate credentials for everything.  This is what password managers were invented for.  Using these apps, you only have to remember one password and they do the rest for you.  If you don’t use a password manager, make sure to change all your passwords on all your sites three or four times a year.  Remember that your email and social media accounts are the most vulnerable to breaches, so make sure you always use a separate password for critical things like financial sites or medical accounts that might include your personal data.   

  1. Oversharing on Social Media

We’re so plugged in these days, it can be tempting to document every aspect of our lives.  But oversharing can leave you vulnerable.  If your profile is public, anyone can see all the pictures of you and your family, potentially learning sensitive details like where you live or work, or where your kids go to school.  Everyone loves posting vacation shots, but while they show your friends and family what a great time you’re having, they also show thieves that you’re not home.  Think twice about what you post and make sure your privacy settings are set at the right level for you.  Make use of the option to post things only to specific sets of friends or followers, so only your intended audience gets your message. 

  1. Autofill

Autofill is one of those conveniences that has made us a little too complacent.  Yes, it makes filling in forms faster and easier, but it also leaves your personal information vulnerable.  When your browser remembers everything from your name and address to your passwords and credit card numbers, anyone else who gets their hands on your computer immediately has access to all of that, too.  Just think, if your laptop or tablet were stolen, you could be at risk of having your identity stolen and your bank account drained, all for the sake of saving yourself a little effort.  Taking the time to type things in yourself is infinitely better than having to fight your way out of identity theft.

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Stay Safe Shopping Online This Holiday Season

It seems like the holiday season has hit early this year, with many retailers running “don’t wait for Black Friday” campaigns.  With all those bargains to be had, it’s important to remember a few safety tips for holiday shopping online.

Stick to Reputable Sites

Make sure you know the site you’re ordering from.  If it looks too good to be true, or if an item is unbelievably cheap, it’s probably fake and you’re likely to receive sub-standard goods, if you receive anything at all.  Save yourself the stress by double checking the site’s address when you choose your products and then again before you check out.

Stay Away from Public WiFi

Lots of people shop from their phones or tablets these days, but public, unprotected wifi networks leave your data and financial information vulnerable to anyone else on that network.  If you shop over wifi, make sure you’re on a secure network.  Using a consumer VPN adds another layer of protection.

Look For The Lock

Only give your payment information to a secure site.  You can tell a site is secure by looking for the padlock icon next to the site’s address in the address bar.  That lock icon and “https” in front of the site name mean that your financial data is processed through encryption to keep it safe from bad actors.  

Monitor Your Accounts

Keep an eye on your bank accounts and credit card statements starting now and keep it up through the end of January.  Most credit cards will not hold you liable for any fraudulent activity, but if someone gets access to your bank account, they can drain it quickly.  So, if you see anything suspicious, report it to your bank or financial institution immediately!

Keep these tips in mind and stay safe online this holiday season!

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Internet vs WiFi

Do you use the words “internet” and “WiFi” interchangeably?  Lots of people do, but they’re not the same thing.  WiFi allows your devices to connect to a network, and that network then connects to the internet.  Read on to learn more about how the two work together.

The term “WiFi” refers to the wireless signal that gets broadcast from your router to your laptop, tablet, phone, or other device.  This wireless radio signal takes the place of ethernet cables that you would otherwise need to connect your router and devices together to create your home or office network.  As long as your device can pick up that radio signal, and there’s an internet connection on the other side of it, your device can go through your router to connect to the internet.  However, that radio signal will still be there even if there is no internet connection on the other end.  So your device may have a great WiFi connection, meaning it’s connected to your router, and still not connect to the internet.

Your internet connection comes from your ISP, provided through a cable or a radio.  That connection usually comes into one place in your home, where it connects to your modem and/or router.  Most modems now have wireless routers built in to provide WiFi, but some connections require a separate router for wireless access.  Your modem translates information from the internet and relays it back to your device, and vice versa.

All your internet activity – browsing websites, sharing on social media, streaming music or videos, or anything else you do online – is about moving information from one computer to another.  Every time you click on a link or type in a URL, your computer sends a request to the server that houses that website.  The server pulls up the site and sends the information back to your computer so you see the site you were looking for.  Each way, the information gets filtered through your modem, allowing your computer or other device to communicate with other computers on the internet.

If your device has a strong WiFi connection but can’t access the internet, the problem is more likely to be in your internet connection.  If you’re not getting any WiFi signal, your internet connection might still be fine, but your router may have a problem.

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