Security Tips for What You Use or Recycle

Whether you’re activating new equipment or continuing to use equipment and websites, and whether you’re recycling old computers, peripherals and devices, there are a number of security steps you can take to avoid a variety of problems. Here’s how to cover your tracks.

Let’s start with passwords. Don’t raise your hands all at once. How many of you tape passwords to your monitor – at the office or at home? How many of you keep them in a file on your computer? How many write them on slips of paper? How many are frustrated by all the rules and by having to keep track of so many passwords?

Did anybody besides me not raise your hand?

Most security experts will tell you should have a separate, strong password for every place that requires one. In the real world, it’s a real pain and highly impractical.

Here’s what I recommend. Create one very secure password you really like and use it for everything. The same security experts will also tell that a very strong password will have three of the following characteristics:

  • Upper case letters
  • Lower case letters
  • Numbers
  • Symbols or special characters

My password has all four – and it’s long. According to the website How Secure Is My Password?, it will take 58 years for someone to crack my code. For perspective, if I would use just my name, it could be cracked immediately. If I add an exclamation point (!), it jumps to 48 seconds. If I add an initial capital letter to the exclamation point, it jumps to 25 minutes. Adding a number increases the time to an hour. Adding another symbol or number gets you up to 58 years.

To give you a better idea of passwords to avoid, SplashData, provider of the SplashID Safe line of password management applications, just released its annual list of the past year’s worst passwords. If you see something familiar in the list, you might want to make a change or two.

So, give your password some thought and some length, and you should be in good shape.  Just be aware that some sites may have some special rules about password creation, but you get the idea. Some sites also have two-factor identification requirements, so make sure you follow the rules. If you use Dropbox to store or share files, we can help you set up a two-factor identification for your protection.

Another area of concern, which is largely out of our individual control, is the theft of information from major retailers’ systems. Target and Nordstrom are the ones that come to mind. I believe the biggest threat to systems such as those is somebody inside stealing information – just like somebody in a company embezzling money.

However, it does raise a question that we, as consumers, need to answer. How much convenience do we want? We’ve all returned products without a receipt, and it’s possible when the retailer retains the transaction and your credit card information. We are trading privacy for convenience.

The newer credit card technology, which is widely used in Europe, uses a chip that the retailer scans. On the backend, no information is stored once the transaction is completed.

Finally, let’s talk about protecting your data – or more accurately erasing and eradicating your data – when you recycle a computer, smartphone, tablet, fax machine, copier or printer. All of them can hold data.

When you go to a reputable recycler, you can be confident they will erase all hard drives and chips. It’s always a good idea to verify that. You can also remove a hard drive from a desktop or laptop computer, and with a laptop, it’s pretty effective to wreck the hard drive by hitting it with a hammer. Desktop hard drives have a steel undercarriage, which makes destruction more difficult.

There are ways to erase or eradicate the data, but we recommend you let us take care of it for you. We can make sure all the data and files you want to keep are backed up so you can restore them for use on other computers and devices. We also can use tools that wipe everything clean and can test to make sure we took off everything.

We are also happy to take any electronics you want to get rid of to GreenVision. State and local laws that affect most of our customers require recycling for all electronics to protect the environment. We take your old stuff there when we install new equipment. Please feel free to call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to answer your questions, wipe out your data and/or help with your recycling. You can also call us or email us about your password and data security questions.

This article was published in Technology Update, the monthly newsletter from Sterling Rose LLC.

The Downgrade Upgrade

We can’t verify that Microsoft will make a last-minute decision to support the XP operating system. But we can tell you that nothing has shaken our belief that you should replace XP with Windows 7 because Windows 8 and 8.1 are a disaster for business. If you have Windows 8 or 8.1 Professional, you can upgrade your capabilities by “downgrading” to Windows 7 Professional. There is no charge for the software.

Downgrade rights are an end-user right that Microsoft offers for certain OEM products that meet specific technical requirements.  In practical terms, just about any computer or server from a manufacturer with a Microsoft Windows license can be eligible. You can tell from the codes on the stickers placed on your computer in the factory.

For Windows-based computers, you can take advantage of your “downgrade” right if you have Professional or Premium versions of your operating system. For example, if you have a computer with Windows 8 or 8.1 Professional, you can replace it with Windows 7 Professional.

If you are so moved, you can even go down the chain from Windows 7 Professional to Vista Business and then to XP Professional. Needless to say, we don’t recommend it.

Nor do we recommend that you install the “downgrade” from Windows 8 or 8.1 to 7 by yourself. The first reason is that you must have the actual disk for the new OS. While you can create a recovery disk when you set up a new computer (how many of you did that?), most users don’t have a readily available disk.

Second, you will need to migrate all your data and programs to the new OS. That requires having the proper systems for backing up and restoring everything. You can lose any advantage of an OS switch if you lose your data.

In addition to covering computers, the right to upgrade by downgrading applies to certain Windows servers.

Understanding all of your available options can be daunting and confusing. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to set up an appointment to discuss your options to upgrade your computing capabilities by downgrading your Windows OS version.

This article was published in Technology Update, the monthly newsletter from Sterling Rose LLC.

Freebies for Non-Profits; Savings for Others

Non-profits can keep their shoestrings from fraying by taking advantage of free software offerings from a number of publishers. Even for-profit businesses can realize savings. That can be especially helpful for small and home-based businesses that operate on shoestring budgets or have little margin for extra expenses.

For legitimate, duly registered non-profits, numerous software publishers and web-based services providers offer free programs. They can cover email, application software and web-based (cloud-based) file storage and collaboration tools.

We’ve worked with two non-profit clients to help them save $2,600 and $500 per year, respectively, in software and service costs. We helped them achieve their savings by looking at the availability of free software and services from current providers or finding alternatives they could use free of charge. While the savings may not seem like a lot of money, they do free up dollars to spend on fulfilling their missions.

For one of our non-profits, GreenVision Inc., which provides jobs and learning experiences for students and adults with developmental disabilities, we could have saved them an immediate $150 per year had they been a for-profit business. That’s because one of their providers was charging them for features they didn’t use.

Paying for products or services that are neither used nor needed is one of the biggest cost drains for many small and home-based businesses. The problem can initiate when buying and setting up software or services. If you’re not sure whether you need a feature or capability, you may take it as part of the purchase price or ongoing subscription charges.

In some cases, you may be able reduce the number of licenses you need because not everyone in your company needs access to a specific web-based service. In other cases, you may be able to save money by using a subscription service that provides discounts for multiple users within the same company.

Whether you are a non-profit organization or for-profit business, we can help you sort through all of your options to find the software and services that meet your needs – and can be provided to you free or for a reduced cost. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to learn how you can eliminate or reduce your software and web-based service costs.

This article was published in Technology Update, the monthly newsletter from Sterling Rose LLC.

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