Preventing Viral Infections

Early shopping season reports showed online purchasing way up over in-store shopping this year. If you know what you want and what you want to pay for presents, online shopping is convenient and efficient. We’ve written a lot over the years about being safe online, but you’d be surprised who could be infectious.

One culprit, for example, could be an electrical contractor or video-surveillance-system contractor who does work at several locations for a national or regional retailer. That contractor may use some sort of billing app to invoice the retailer – let’s say it’s Target or Walmart, but it could be anybody; we’re talking about the size of the company. That invoice goes somewhere in the retailer’s massive data management program.

Now, let’s say that contractor hasn’t had the time to keep all of their security software update – or they’re using some free antivirus program that has more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese – or they’re using easily cracked passwords.

Do you see where this is going? A hacker gets into the contractor’s computer system, simply because it’s open. Once inside the system, the hacker sees that the contractor has done business with the large retailer and is able to find all the information the contractor uses to get into the system. Once hackers are in, they have the opportunity to explore other parts of the system, and that’s where it’s possible for them to get all sorts of personal data about the retailer’s customers.

It could only be email addresses, but that may be enough to help them launch a scam – which we’ll get into later in this article. They could also get into credit card information, which leads to financial consequences.

As a business or consumer, what can you do to keep from being infectious? First of all, make sure all of your antivirus and malware software and firewalls are up to date and activated. We always advise going beyond free versions of all of this software. The paid versions are stronger and better supported.

Second, make sure you have strong passwords and change them. Yes, it’s an inconvenience, but that’s the tradeoff you need to make to protect your security. We also recommend using additional security measures such as two-factor authentication or requiring a text notification being sent to your cell phone when you change a password. The text notification will tip you off if someone is impersonating you online.

Third, be VERY, VERY CAREFUL at this time of year. Holiday season is scam season. When you buy online, it’s common to receive an email from a retailer or shipper with a link to track your packages. With thefts of packages commonplace, it’s useful to know when a package will arrive to make sure you or a neighbor can take it in. With everyone rushing to complete shopping and get work done, it’s all too easy to click on a link, and that’s the opening for scammers to get into your system.

Another scam is in the travel industry, such as a special offer purportedly from a hotel or airline. Again, you invited to click a link to take advantage of a “great opportunity.”

You should do your best to verify the authenticity of any link before clicking it. One effective way to check is to hover your mouse over the link. You should see the link’s origin. If it looks funny, avoid it. Even better, open your browser and go to the company’s website to see if you can find the information contained in the email. If it’s legit and available, you should be able to access it. Your other option is to pick a phone and call the company – using a number provided on its website, not from the email.

The sad truth is that no person, business or government is safe from hacking. The question is not if you will be hacked, it’s when you will be hacked. And the consequences can be even more widespread than they used to be. Some of the viruses now get into your computer’s firmware. That means that even if you wipe your hard drive clean and reinstall your operating system and all your other software, the virus is still there.

If you think you’ve been hacked or have a virus in your computer, call us or your IT specialist immediately. We know where to look and have the tools to discover your breach and mitigate the virus if it’s all possible. Call us – 973-433-6676 – immediately if you have a security concern or contact us by email if you have any questions about your online security.

Finding Tech Discounts

We love Apple products, but we hate paying top dollar for them. Apple stores have been the traditional retail outlet for many of the company’s products, but this year, the landscape has changed. You may find competitively discounted prices at leading retail stores and websites.

We’re not privy to Apple’s marketing and sales strategies, but we are seeing the Apple store as the place to showcase technologies, take care of repairs and let customers come in and really put a product through its paces. Factory-trained experts can better concentrate on answering questions and offering suggestions without the pressure to sell at full retail prices.

When it’s time to make the purchase, we’re finding lower prices at “big-box” retailers, and that includes many of the latest iPads and Apple Watches. We suspect the retailers are happy to offer Apple products to help build traffic for all other types of products, and if they make a little less on an Apple device, they can more than make it up selling something else.

We’re also finding more widespread buying opportunities and lower prices on Microsoft’s Surface tablets and other manufacturers’ tablets and devices. It could be the start of a “tablet war,” that also includes Samsung and puts three mobile operating systems into play.

The winner of any tablet war should be the consumer. Each tablet manufacturer has several models on the market of varying ages and capabilities – and putting them on the open retail market heats up the pricing competition.

Naturally, this wide-open market is not restricted to tablets. Computers, mobile phones and TVs are part of the product mix. All of this puts it on your shoulders to find the best prices. Research both online and brick-and-mortar retailers for the best prices but be aware of a few caveats – all of which add up to caveat emptor, or buyer beware:

  • When shopping a specific brand and model, make sure you are comparing the same performance specs for the products offered at each store. TVs especially may be a mix of older and newer models, with the older ones having lower refresh rates and resolutions or not having as many features, such the number of HDMI and USB connections or older connection ports. Some may or may not Internet connection capability. There’s nothing wrong with the older or lesser technology; just don’t think you’re scoring a deal that’s too good to be true.
  • Some items just may not be discounted. They may be too new to the market and still have a WOW factor, or their market may be so limited that the manufacturer cannot produce and sell enough to take advantage of any economies of scale.

As you get deeper into your shopping and price comparisons, questions will inevitably arise about whether a product and its price are right for you. We can help you with both the questions and the answers. Just call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us. And remember, we can help you set up any home electronics system.

iPad Pro and the Tech Transformation

Our new iPad Pro is a great device. We love it for what it does – and maybe for the technology transformation that it and other tablets are ushering in.

We can see the iPad Pro and other large tablets edging closer to replacing laptop and notebook computers for some people. If your primary use is to surf the web and take care of email, simply hook up a keyboard, and you’re up and running. If you want to watch videos, the screen on the iPad Pro is amazing for its clarity and speed.

Yes there are some downsides. For one thing, as much as I love it, the tablet is not a full computer. It’s a mobile device, and Apple gives every indication it will not merge its iOS (mobile) and OSX (computer) operating systems. However, with Apple and Microsoft fighting for market share, don’t bet against a tablet replacing your computer. You can get Microsoft Office for tablets – and mobile phones – and as more people get comfortable with storing documents in the cloud, they’re likely to demand more computing capability.

As far as tablets go, iPad Pro is bigger and heavier than previous generations of tablets, but I personally don’t find that to be a problem. In 2005, screens on cell phones started to get bigger, and as we advanced to smart phones with Internet capability, it was only a matter of time that users would demand even bigger screens to watch videos.

By 2010, recalling a once-every-five-years family reunion, the iPad was new to the market, and many family members wondered about the need for it. Well, the iPad and other tablets are here to stay, even though sales have slumped lately. They have a variety of sizes and uses professionally, ranging from healthcare professionals in offices and hospitals who need to maintain patient records as they move through an office or hospital – to IT specialists and sales reps who can do a lot of work without being tethered to a computer.

So, don’t sell tablets short. If the history of mobile devices holds true, enough users will try to push the technology a little farther than its capabilities so that Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and others will notice. Their teams will respond to market demand, and the cycle will start again.

iPad Pro, I love you – until the next better device hits the market.

Have questions about tablets? Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us and tell us what you’re looking for and how much you’d like to spend. There’s a tablet that’s right for you today – and maybe for the next 18 months.

Newsflash: Flash is Dead…Well…Not Really

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em…sort of. That’s what Adobe is doing with Flash. With longstanding complaints about its stability and security vulnerabilities, Adobe has decided to rename its latest version Adobe Animate. While it’s an improvement over Flash, most of us in IT support will take a wary view of Animate as Adobe rolls it out.

Why are we skeptical? Flash has been a staple of online advertising, which continues to grow. Website developers have hated it for years, but it wasn’t until Steve Jobs slammed it in 2010 that Adobe began rewriting it. One of his major problems is that it was designed, as he said, for the PC era and did not work for touch screens – which is the staple of Apple’s mobile devices and everyone else’s.

At times, too, its security was so bad that we and other IT specialists regularly advised clients to uninstall it. Adobe’s rewrites have made it a better product, but it still has a bad reputation.

So, Adobe will release Animate next year, essentially rebranding the programming tool. It will enable developers to work with HTML5, a programming language widely used for the web and many other animation applications, and you won’t need download the Flash Player to make it work. While Adobe wants to put Flash out of mind, we’ll be on the watch for security vulnerabilities. We’ll be sure to let you know when we see problems that require action, ranging from installing updates to uninstalling it.

Be sure to keep an eye on email warnings from us or postings on our Facebook page for news on Animate. If you have any questions about Adobe Flash right now, call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for advice.