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Beware That “Safe” Attachment

Recently, “my bank” sent me an email with a notice about my account.  Being a security conscious IT guy, I was WellsFargo99.999% sure that no bank would ever send an email with a .html attachment. After updating Norton and Malwarebytes,  I got clean scans of the attachment from both.  Even though all the links in the email were to Wells Fargo, I was certain that the attachment had malicious intent, and uploaded it to Virus Total, and 1 of the 57 online scanners, 56 gave a green check mark, and 1 correctly said Heuristics.Phishing.Email.SpoofedDomain.

scanresultsHad the attachment been a virus or trojan, the detection rate may have been much higher.  Regardless, be careful.  Don’t think that your security software will protect you from willy-nilly clicking on attachments, because it may not. I have had other instances of attached trojans getting clean scans.  Only after I uploaded them to my security software vendor did they analyze and update their software to detect and remove them. It’s dangerous out there.


Posted in Information Security, Privacy, Technology.

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The Internet is Not Your Mother’s Living Room

Remember, back in the day, when you used to laugh over embarrassing  stories and photos, in your mother’s living room?  It was great fun, and you always knew that what went on in Mom’s living room stayed in Mom’s living room.  Well, a funny thing happened in about the last dozen years: the internet was extended by social media and sharing sites, like MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, and many more.  Apps on mobile phones make it quite easy to convert Mom’s living room quality embarrassing misadventures and photos into permanent memories for the whole world to see in perpetuity.  Disk space is cheap, and the price of “free” online services is that the service providers monetize your silly moments.  Don’t think that when you delete a photo from Facebook it is actually deleted, because it’s not.

So, the next time you’re tempted to extend your mother’s living room to the entire world, think about it.

Posted in Information Security, Privacy.

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Nightmare on iCloud Street

Several months ago, I decided to try out iCloud on my PC, so I could help my clients who have iPhones and/or iPads. Since I use Google Apps for Business, my contacts and calendars are synchronized among my computers and phone.  My plan was to use iCloud to synchronize contacts and calendar for my only iOS device, an iPod Touch.  Conceptually, it’s not very complicated: plug iCloud into Outlook on my PC and synchronize via iCloud to my iPod Touch.  If iCloud software couldn’t do what it was supposed to do, it wouldn’t work. In my mind, that was the worst-case scenario.  When the installation failed, I thought that was it.  Then I noticed that the contacts and calendar were gone from my phone.  Next, I logged in to my Google accounts, and they were gone from there, as well.  Of course, they were also gone from Outlook, although there was an empty iCloud sync folder.

Had the installation simply failed, I would have forgiven Apple for being unable to do what I wanted it to do, in a more complex environment than many have.  But to delete my contacts and calendar before giving up is not ok.  Fortunately, I was able to use my backups and prior versions on Google’s servers to reassemble my contacts and calendars, with only a loss of several hours time.

If you use Google Apps for Business or Microsoft Exchange, you may want to steer clear of iCloud.

Posted in Information Security, Technology.

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Securing Your Verizon Email

Recently, Verizon upgraded its residential email servers to use secure, i.e., encrypted, connections.  This is very important to the security of your email, particularly if you use public wireless networks.

Here are the new settings, as copied from

Mail server settings

  • Incoming mail server (POP3):
  • Incoming Server Port Numbers: 995
  • Outgoing mail server (SMTP):
  • Outgoing Server Port Numbers: 465  Why is this important?
  • Your Verizon Online user name
  • Your Verizon Online password
  • Make sure “This server requires a secure connection (SSL)” is checked.

Now would be a good time to change to the more secure settings,  AFTER taking note of your current settings, in case there is a problem.  These new settings should work with Outlook, Outlook Express, and Thunderbird, as well as on Android phones and the iPhone.  Among possible causes of incompatibility with the more secure settings include blocked ports at the firewall, VPNs and proxies.

If you don’t feel comfortable reconfiguring your email software, you should ask your IT support person for assistance.

Posted in Information Security, Privacy, Technology.

Tech Tips for Cat Owners

Admittedly, you don’t have to have a cat crawling across your keyboard for some of these things to happen, but the likelihood is dramatically increased if you do.

Your Computer Screen is Turned Sideways.  Some video cards use the key sequence CTRL-ALT-Left Arrow to rotate the display.  Try pressing CTRL-ALT-Up Arrow to change it back.

Wireless no longer works on your laptop.  It worked the last time you used it (before the cat crawled across the keyboard — or before you brought it back from a trip — take your pick).  Chances are good that your wireless radio got switched off.  Various Dells use Fn/F2 to switch on/off; various Toshibas   use Fn/F8; others may use other key sequences or a switch on the top, front or side.  The label may look something like this:

Your Taskbar Has Moved to the Side of the Screen.  Right-click on a blank part of the taskbar, and make sure that Lock the taskbar is NOT checked.  Left-click on a blank part of the taskbar, and while holding in the left mouse button, drag it back to where you want it, and release the left mouse button.  Voila!  Lastly, right-click on a blank part of the taskbar, and CHECK Lock the taskbar.

Your Multi-function Printer Frequently Cuts off Scans and Copies.  Of course what you are trying to scan/copy is properly aligned on the scanner glass, but sometimes copies are cut off in the middle.   There’s a good chance that your printer has a button for 4×6 photos, with the light next to it lit.  Press the button and try again.  Problem solved!

Someone makes nonsense posts in your Facebook account and forwards embarrassing emails when you’re away from your computer.  A possible fix for this problem could also prevent numerous other computer mysteries, including the first three listed above.  When you are away from your computer, keep it locked with a strong passphrase.  The cat can probably guess simple passwords like furball, fluffy, and catlover!


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When Internet Explorer becomes Internet Exploder

When is the last time when you tried to use Internet Explorer and received this message: “Microsoft Internet Explorer has encountered a problem and needs to close?” Since I’ve received several calls about this problem in the last several days, it sure looks like Internet Exploder is a much deserved name! Before downloading and installing Firefox — which I highly recommend — try the following fix for Internet Explorer.

Go into the Control Panel, and open Internet Options. Click on the Advanced tab, and select RESET. Another dialog will appear, and you will click on Reset again. Click on Close, then try to run Internet Explorer.  When you get the “Welcome to Internet Explorer” message, you may chose to click on “Ask me later.”

Next, you will go to Tools, Manage Add-ons, to enable any necessary add-ons, such as the one(s) for your security software.  Lastly, I recommend that you go to to download and install Web of Trust, which I greatly prefer to Microsoft’s Smart Screen Filter.

Lastly, you may want to head over to to download and install Firefox.  I also recommend that you install Web of Trust for Firefox.

Hopefully this post will provide you with a dose of Technology Frustration Remediation®.




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Opt-out Privacy Policies Illustrated

Occasionally, I get a notification, from my favorite social networking site or my mortgage company, starting out with the words, “We respect your privacy.” Translation: “We respect the economic value of your personal information.” The notification typically continues with how my personal information is shared with affiliates, who may, at their discretion, share my personal information with other affiliates. They go on to explain that I am free to “opt-out” of [some of] these disclosures, and, should I chose to do so (after my information is already “out”) , “opt-out” separately with each affiliate, subject to their own privacy policies. Of course, these privacy policies are subject to change without notice.

If this situation does not strike you as sheer lunacy, an illustration is in order.

Imagine this. Frank and Jesse James walked into a bank with their affiliates Willie Sutton and Bonnie & Clyde. They fired several shots into the air and started to round up hostages and demand money. Immediately, the bank guard approached Frank and Jesse with a clipboard with a Bank Robbery Opt-out Form attached. Frank looked at the completed form, and said, “Everything appears to be in order. Since my brother and I are honorable people, we will honor your opt-out request. You will, however, need to opt-out separately with our affiliates.”

Next, the guard approached Bonnie with a Bank Robbery Opt-out Form. Bonnie took one look at the form and responded, “Clyde and I would be delighted to honor your opt-out request. Oh, my! Look at the time: It’s after four on Friday afternoon. Our opt-out system is down for the weekend. Come back on Monday, and we will honor your request. In the meantime, we have a bank robbery to attend to.”

Before the guard had a chance to approach Willy Sutton with the third Bank Robbery Opt-out Form , Frank mentioned that he and Jesse had just changed their Bank Robbery Opt-out Policy, and would be rejoining their affiliates’ bank robbery in progress.

Hopefully, now you understand that privacy opt-out policies are often designed to prevent you from opting-out. They monetize your personal information and trample on your privacy rights. I suggest you demand stronger privacy protection laws and regulations from our state and federal elected officials and regulators. More information is available through the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, with whom I am not affiliated.

Posted in Information Security, Privacy.

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What Windows 7 XP Mode Can Do for You

Mac users have long known the benefits of running software not available on the Mac, within a virtual machine on their Mac.  All they have to do is purchase and install virtual machine software, such as VMware Fusion or Parallels, and a full version of Microsoft Windows.   Windows 7, in the Professional and Ultimate versions, offers this capability as a  free download from the Microsoft web site.

Why would I want to run windows XP on a Windows 7 computer? If you have legacy hardware or software that will not work in Windows 7, you could save a significant amount of money.  For example, say you have prior versions of Adobe Creative Suite and Pagemaker that will only run on Windows XP, or have an expensive printer that won’t work on Windows 7, XP mode could save your bacon. 

CPAs and bookkeepers may need to use legacy financial software that requires Windows XP.  Personally, I needed to install Coreldraw, and it refused to install on Windows 7, but worked flawlessly in XP mode.  Your needs may be different.

What’s the downside? You have another computer operating system to maintain.  This means installing and maintaining security software, installing Windows updates, and maintaining any other software you have installed in XP mode.  Additionally, when XP mode is in operation — you only use it when you need to — it takes away computing resources from Windows 7.  In other words, your racehorse becomes a much slower workhorse!

What’s the upshot? If you do not have a simple, inexpensive solution to your software or hardware compatibility problem, Windows 7 XP mode could be just the ticket!

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Favorite New Features in Windows 7

There are quite a few new features in Windows 7 to eliminate the usability advantage once enjoyed by its plus-priced competition.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Stability. This is the one that really puts Windows 7 over the top. In five months of heavy everyday use, it has not crashed once.  My only question is:  What happened to the blue screen of death?

Jump Lists.  Applications  written to take advantage of this feature display recently used files, without having to start the application.

Action Center. Here you can handle security and maintenance issues, in addition to doing troubleshooting and recovery.

Libraries. These provide an aggregated view of  related files and their folders.  Out of the box, Windows comes with documents, music, pictures, and videos libraries, although you can create others.  By utilizing the pull-down Arrange By box on the right side, you can view each library by folder, author, date modified, tag, type, or name.  Name and date modified just show file names, and the other views show virtual folders with files inside. An example should illustrate the real power of libraries. You have years of Turbotax returns scattered in various nooks and crannies inside My Documents. By arranging your library by Type, you will find that they are grouped into three virtual folders — because Turbotax used the .tax extension through 2007, then used .tax2008 and .tax2009 for 2008 and 2009, respectively. Even so, locating your tax returns is still a snap, thanks to the library functionality built into Windows 7.

Next time around, we will talk about using Windows 7 with XP Mode. This is a feature that could save having to replace expensive legacy software or hardware.

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Software Installation from Hell

Usually, software installation is straightforward:  Agree to terms and conditions, answer some obtuse questions, tweak a few settings, and go about your merry way.  Of course, IT pros know to verify compatibility before beginning an installation, and if necessary, use administrator privileges.  The Intuit Quickbooks Pro 2010 box stated compatibility with Windows 7 32-bit and 64-bit versions.  Check.

About fifteen minutes later, after requesting to reboot to continue the installation, the installer program proclaimed, “Third party components are not found.  Installation will be interrupted.”  No big deal.  Just install the third-party components manually, reboot between steps, and continue the installation, right?  Nope.  Same result as before.  Before calling Intuit’s technical support and waiting in the queue for an hour, only to be told to disable my anti-virus and firewall and restart the installation, I did what should not make any difference with professionally-written software — copied the contents of the CD to the hard drive and installed from there.  Several minutes later,  the installation completed successfully.   Although I had attempted the installation from the CD with security software enabled and disabled (different times), the successful installation occurred from the hard drive with security software enabled.

Note to IntuitThanks for taking up a large part of my afternoon.  You kept me from having to figure out what to do with a large chunk of my time.

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