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Deck the Halls with Security advice

by on Nov.27, 2013, under Computers, Internet/Music, Security

It is that time of year. Holiday shopping, Black Friday, Cyber Monday (that still sounds like a XXX movie), and the like. Special offers abound, and the bad guys are ready to get you. Some simple steps to stay safer during the holidays.

This is the time of year that the criminal digital underground loves. People rushing to get the best deals they can, be it online or offline. The odds of someone clicking on a malicious link, increases with desperation, and of course making the deals looks good. Nothing will 100% guarantee that your going to be free of malware, or that your identity will not be swiped, but there are some simple things to remember to keep the risks at more of a minimum.

1) If it looks to be too good of a deal, it probably is, especially online. Deals are the easiest thing to snag someone online with. Pair that with fake URLs that look legit, and you have a recipe for disaster. The trick here is to find out what the real URL is. In Outlook and most browsers out can hover over links to see what they are sending you to. Doing a right click and copy hyperlink then pasting into notepad is a good way to see the full link itself for a quick check. If it shows something that bothers you, don’t go to it, don’t click on it.

2) Keep up to date with your purchases. This is easy enough to do with online banking. Check at minimum once a week online with your bank and credit card companies. Look for anything out of the ordinary. the faster you see something that looks fraudulent the faster things can be taken care of, and the less hassle there is overall.

3) Single Click on the web! I see this all too often. We as a society have gotten so use to double clicking to open programs that we forget it is a single click on a link. This is important because that second click could hit a hijacked ad on the site you were going to and at that point it is game over. You are pwnd and let the malware flood gates open.

4) Backup Backup Backup. Get an external drive that you only connect to backup your files, Use Mozy or Carbonite, do something to backup your files. Especially with Cryptolocker out there, the clean backup is important so you don’t have to pay to recover your files and take the risk that the bad guys are not going to keep their end of the bargain.

5) If you do not have to enter your pin on a pad, DON’T! Most bank cards can be used as “Credit Cards” (They have the Mastercard or Visa logo on them) meaning you do not have to punch in your security pin. Who knows if that pin pad is secure. Yes it only stops the pin from being gotten but that can be enough to stop someone from emptying your account.

Yes, these are basics, and yes milli0ns of people each year tend to not think about them. They are simple and pretty effective, but remember not perfect. If someone hacks the store or bank, you have no control over that. If the credit card or ATM machine has been tampered with, you don’t have control over that. Just do what you can to keep a little safer, and have a great holiday season!




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Microsoft Surface. Hit and Miss.

by on Jul.22, 2013, under Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile Computing, Reviews, Tablet/E-readers

Microsoft entered the tablet hardware business with the launch of the Surface line starting with the RT back in October. The timing on it for me was pretty good because my office was getting ready for a technology refresh, and I got to test it. Now, months later, what I call the new shiny syndrome has worn off.

When you look at what works and what doesn’t in the world of technology you come to realize a few things. First, so much is subjective. Second, people tend to dislike change. Third, change is inevitable. With this in mind, looking at the past 9 months with the Surface RT I have found a lot to like about it. There are pitfalls with it also, but it really is a solid tablet.

The Windows 8 interface is perfect for the RT. I find live tiles to be a great idea that matches and surpasses the widgets I have on my Android Tablet. iOS of course does not have anything like widgets or live tiles to compare to. The problem with the live tiles is the way they update, or at times don’t update. I find news stories to be on the older side half the time. I don’t get decent updates often enough for my liking. These problems though I have found to be true of widgets also.  There also is no intuitive way of stopping the live feed on the tiles.

Metro style apps are easy enough to get use to. Gestures for bringing up menus and doing things inside these apps are very consistent, which makes the learning curve a lot simpler than iOS or Android. The issue with Metro Style though is that same thing. If you are use to the way an app works on the other OSes, odds are you will have trouble finding the same features easily. Also the swipe down partially to bring up menus can be a bit trying at times, although not as difficult to master as the swipe completely down to close apps. If you don’t start from the right spot and go at the right speed, closing apps does not work, and I still find myself taking 3 or 4 swipes to close apps.

The biggest plus is the Office apps that come with the Surface RT, and with Outlook being added to that with the 8.1 Windows release, this just becomes better.

The biggest issues for me though come in the touch screen itself. I find it inaccurate. For instance, if I am on Facebook and want to share something on a friends timeline, I find myself going through the steps 4 or 5 times because I think I am tapping on share to friends timeline and it reads it as share to group. I find myself hitting links multiple times before it registers the tap also.

The soft keyboard which I have is decent, but also has its issues. I have found it losing responsiveness when typing, or registering the wrong key. In fact there is no rhyme or reason for this as the keyboard winds up either overly sensitive, or not registering my pressing at random. The Tablet itself will type normal for a moment, then buffer oddly and take 30 second or more to show the next stuff typed, which makes corrections rather difficult and causes delays in getting work done.

The weight and feel of the Surface are my final complaint about it. It shouldn’t feel as heavy as it does. Also the way it is shaped can leave hard marks in ones hand and cause pain if held for extended periods.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the tablet itself, and it gets used way more than my iPad. My ASUS Android tablet is still my primary tablet overall, but the Surface makes a nice backup. People seem to be worried about the amount of apps for the Windows RT environment, but honestly, I find most things I use a tablet for have an app, and most of them are available across the board. A decent free IRC app is all I have not been able to find so far. With the recent price cuts, I would recommend this to most people, although I am sure there are better devices out there from other manufacturers with Windows RT on it.

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The catch 22

by on Apr.08, 2013, under Microsoft

As I’ve been studying for the 70-410 Microsoft exam, I’ve come to the realization that I’m not ready, and I might not ever be.

Technology is a wondrous thing. It can take care of mundane, repetitive tasks, but only if you set it up and use it properly. It can also take over your world and control you, not quite Matrix style, but its getting there. Those of us that work in the IT field, be they developers, Network Admins, Penetration Testers, or any other number of fields, we do our best to keep up with the constant change of technology, not just for our own sake, but for societies. Someone has to know how to tame the technological beast. Certifications are a way of showing we understand the technologies out there, and have some degree of mastery over them.

Recently, there has been a challenge put forth called 90 Days to MCSA, through Microsoft learning. the goal is to get your MCSA be it in SQL, Server 2010, or Azure, in a 90 day period. I love learning (why else get into the IT field), and I love a good challenge, so I have embarked on the Server 2012 track. Over the last 10 days I have been studying for the Installation and Configuration exam (70-410) with a book from Microsoft press geared toward it. I also have a lab set up at my house for testing and doing the exercises. this should be simple you would think. Study the book, do the exercises, pass the exam. Theoretically, that is how it is supposed to go.

The problem with theories, is just that. They are theories, and real world can be indifferent to them. As I have almost finished the book (all 1600 pages of it) and done the exercises, I honestly do not feel much more ready to take the exam than I did before I started. Some of that could be because of the time frame from start to finish, which I will supplement with some other resources available to me. Some of it is that I don’t have access to any practice exams to gauge how I do on the various parts, and where my weaknesses are. Another portion is due to the face that while Server 2012 is new, and so are the exams, the books to study for it were released back in October, which means they were written while the software was still in Beta, and I have found issues with some of the exercises due to that fact (I won’t get into how many typos were in the book itself). This also leads me to a lack of confidence in taking the exam. When the official material is problematic, one has to wonder what they are actually in for.

The final issue I run into is that I like to know that I can pass the exam itself before I take it. I know others out there are like this also. We don’t want to go into that testing room and come out with a fail, especially with how much the exams cost. So we tend to push it off, time and time again, until there is new technology and new exams to take. In the mean time we get really good with the technology, but have no way of showing that little piece of paper to our employers, even though in the end it shouldn’t matter.

The question is though, when do you jump into the exam itself?

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