Summer Safety for Your ID Data

Did you get a good rate on your car rental for this summer’s trip? The real bargain might go to whoever downloads your personal data from the electronic breadcrumbs you might leave behind. Taking the time to button down a few details can save you a lot of grief.

Let’s start with cleaning out that rental car. Rental companies always update their fleets, and they want you to feel as comfortable as you would feel in your own car. One of the features increasingly common at any price and size level is Bluetooth, which lets you use the car’s audio system for handling calls on your smartphone, streaming music and getting directions from any GPS system you want to use. Some cars include a USB connection so you can have all those features and charge your phone.

That’s a great convenience, but as we’ve noted many times before, convenience usually involves a tradeoff with security. Syndicated radio host and blogger Kim Komando of the Kim Komando Show, gets to the heart of the issue.

“When you connect your gadget to a car with Bluetooth, the car stores your phone number in order to make it easier to connect later,” she points out. “It also stores your call logs, which include any contacts you dialed. There’s just one problem: All of that information is saved inside the system and is just sitting around for the next renter to find.”

We’re sure there are some other tech-savvy people who could also see your data before the car goes back on the road. So, take some time to clean up your electronic breadcrumbs – and build that time into your schedule for returning your rental car.

Komando offers two suggestions.

“Simply go into the car’s settings (it will vary for every car make and model) and locate your smartphone from the list of previously paired Bluetooth gadgets,” she writes. “There should be an option to delete your phone. That should wipe the call logs and saved contacts. Better yet, look for an option to clear all user data or do a complete factory reset. Talk to the employees at the car rental place if you can’t find these options.”

To that, we would add that you should not leave your car until you take care of this – or be prepared to email the rental company’s customer service department right from the check-in line. You could also post to Facebook or tweet about the problem – right then and there. But you’re better off getting the data deleted.

If you used the car’s navigation system, go into its settings and clear your location history. You don’t want anybody knowing where you’ve been or where you live.

By the way, if you are selling or trading in your car and turning back a leased vehicle, you should follow all of the suggestions for rental cars.

Komando’s article also talks about how easy it is for someone to hack into a car’s computer system and some of the consequences. Again, for your own data security, she recommends using the cigarette lighter adapter to charge your phone instead of a USB connection in the car or bringing along your own third-party Bluetooth audio kit for hands-free use of your smartphone. She adds that systems are being developed to allow you to use your device without storing any information in the car.

We have some other tips to protect your data and your hardware:

  • Remember that your data is out there for anyone to see when you use a public, unsecured Wi-Fi network. It’s not a good network to use for accessing your bank, credit card company or institution that has sensitive data. A secured Wi-Fi network is better, and so is your cellular data network.
  • Whether traveling or in your office or home, we recommend using a surge protector while your computer is plugged into the socket. Summer is a notorious season for power surges when you have lightning and power interruptions, and they can damage your machine’s circuitry. If your computer is older, it’s more susceptible to possible damage.
  • When working from your computer’s regular location, we recommend using a battery back-up system that sits between your outlet and your equipment. In the event of a power outage – even a very brief outage can trigger a computer shutdown – you’ll be able to save your work and initiate proper shutdown procedures to protect your work and equipment. Most battery back-up systems have outlets for you to plug in your computer, your gateway/router, printer and other similar devices.

If you have any questions at all about automotive systems or protecting your equipment during the summer, we’re happy to answer them or help you with installing or configuring any products. Contact us at 973-433-6676 or email us.

Shortcuts Can Take You the Long Way

Just like there’s no free lunch, there’s no easy solution when you use a shortcut that cuts corners. Whatever time and money you think you are saving can easily be wiped out – at the cost of more time and money – when a failure occurs without warning. You can protect valuable data by taking the time to set up your system properly.

That advice was brought home to a client who received some bad advice from a bargain-basement IT support provider. The provider had moved away but still provided support. When our client – before we took over the account – contacted the provider to help with a database problem, things went from bad to worse very quickly.

In a nutshell, our client’s system had some built-in redundancies, all designed to prevent data-loss problems, but their failure had never been detected. As result, our client was walking a tightrope without a safety net. When called in, the former IT provider instructed our client to reboot the server, but the server never came back online. That was one problem.

Another problem was the failure of the hard drive, and we found a problem there that we consider totally avoidable. It began when the client started running out of space on the server’s hard drive. Instead of taking the time – and money – to back up the data and install a new hard drive, the IT provider repartitioned the drive using a compression program.

That step is something we never even suggest to our clients. In all the literature we’ve come across and in our many years of IT experience, it’s not a stable program. It’s just a bad shortcut to try to pick up extra space.

So, when the hard drive failed, it lost some data that the client had thought was saved. We tried several restore points, but we never could get the data that had been lost. That’s because the database had been corrupted at some point, and the client was backing up corrupted data.

Going forward, the client now understands that imaging a hard drive or partitioning the drive or using any other questionable technique to create more space on a hard drive will only expose them to more risk. It’s a lesson everyone should learn and heed. You can only stuff so much data onto a hard drive before you get distortions (corrupted data) and an outright failure.

If you need more data storage capacity, we can explore a number of options and find the one that best fits your office’s needs and protects the safety of your data. Contact us at 973-433-6676 or email us to set up an appointment.

Finding the e-Fountain of Youth

When I got impatient with my desktop computer’s performance, I was able to install a new SSD hard drive. My old machine is faster than a new one would have been, and it was a lot less expensive. Can changing a few parts help your computer find an electronic fountain of youth?

The short answer is: yes. How much you can do depends on your computer’s age and its internal systems, and it also depends on a cost-benefit analysis to determine if it makes economic sense. And, of course, I did mine on my own time, which was not an out-of-pocket expense. I knew my time would include reloading all of my software, which is the biggest chunk of time, and I also knew that if I didn’t like the way the new hard drive worked, I’d simply swap it out for the old one and buy a new computer.

The project cost me $300 for the new drive, and the process took four hours. Most of the time saving was the result of new hard drive’s speed.

While prices are coming down, SSDs are still several times more expensive than HDDs in terms of cost per unit of storage.

I decided to install the new drive on a desktop computer that went into service in December 2011. I found my computer was running slow by my standards. It was taking two to three minutes to load up all of my key programs at startup; that’s tolerable for some, highly annoying for others and exasperating for some users.

For me, it was a good investment. However, every computer is different, and every user has different needs. Here are some guidelines for deciding whether to upgrade an older computer and what steps to take.

  • You have many, many options for new hard drives. In addition to technology options, there are size options, all of which affect the cost of the drive.
  • You might want to add new RAM (random access memory), which can speed up performance considerably. A Client’s old computer runs Windows 7, and the 2 GB of RAM was dreadfully slow. The amount of RAM you can add varies with the age and quality of your computer.
  • Whether you have a 32-bit computer or 64-bit computer will affect your options. I have a 64-bit computer, and it made sense to add the speedier performance options. If I had a 32-bit computer, I would have replaced the machine.
  • If you have a desktop computer, an upgrade such as mine generally makes more sense because the case has room to hold a faster processor. A later-generation processor also can take better advantage of a bigger, faster hard drive.
  • If you are replacing an old computer, you may also need to replace the software. That’s another expense to factor into your decision.

We can help you make an informed decision by pricing out viable options based on your system and present and future computing needs. Technology always changes, and prices always come down. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss where you and your computer are and where you’d like to be. If you don’t make changes now, you can start to budget your next move.