Safe Travels, Safe Wi-Fi

It’s getting near spring-break time, and summer vacations will soon follow. You may have seen the reports about wi-fi issues and data security. One of the biggest problems you face is how easy it is to log onto a “fake” wi-fi network – a network that is neither part or your hotel’s system nor secure. But if you pay attention and follow a few simple tips, you can safely stream your favorite content and handle some routine email tasks.

The first and most obvious thing to do is make sure you understand your hotel’s or resort’s log-in information when you check in. Get the proper names of any network that the hotel makes available for you. Then, when you try to log in when you get to your room or sit down at the pool, you can pick out that network from the many that will display when your computers or devices search for the network. Don’t be surprised to see several networks that have spellings or character-and-number sequences that are similar to the networks you were given at check-in.

When you go to log in to the network you’ve selected, you’ll likely be asked for your name and room number. Tip No. 1, don’t enter a correct room number or even a correct name. Misspell your name, if you want. If the network lets you in, then you are not on a legitimate network. If you are denied access with your incorrect info, you should feel confident the network is OK.

Depending on the property’s size and network setup, you may be required to log onto multiple networks. Follow the log-in test for each network. And, most important, make sure everyone in your family or travel group follows that procedure because the breach of one computer or device could compromise everyone in the group.

Also, be aware of network names and connections as you float around. You or one of your family members could inadvertently wind up on an open, unsecured network that can be used to breach your computers or devices to steal information. Tip No. 2, you might want to consider disconnecting from the network when you finish your online session.

Tip No. 3, don’t use a wi-fi network conduct online business, such as credit-card purchases or accessing your bank accounts. You should also avoid wi-fi for logging onto sites related to your health or finances. Instead, use your cellular network. It’s much safer. That may require you to make some additional arrangements with your cellular carrier or to buy and install a SIM card with a data plan for service. However, it’s well worth the time and expense.

Personally, when I travel, I “hotspot” my computer in connection with my cell phone number. It can be expensive (though that’s a relative term), but it removes me from the wi-fi network. So far, hackers have not breached the cellular networks.

Just as a related point, if you are going to depend more on cellular data, make sure you have a plan that will cover your use, and make sure everyone who uses your plan knows its limits. If you’re streaming a lot of video content or gaming, data gets sucked up faster than you can imagine, and charges for exceeding your plan’s limits can be steep.

We can help you prepare for an internet-safe trip or make sure your systems are secure whenever you go remote near your home or office. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to set up an appointment to look at your systems (we can do a lot remotely) and answer your questions.

Managing Storage on Your Devices

It doesn’t get more disappointing than to get a message that you can’t shoot a photo or video because your storage is full. Don’t let a storage shortage limit your ability to capture those memorable vacation moments. You can get the storage you need, and the sooner you do it, the better off you’ll be.

You can sometimes get two storage messages at the same time. One message is that your cloud storage is full, and the other is that your device is full. It’s easier to tackle the first message.

In our opinion, you can maintain enough storage and optimize your storage options by spending money wisely on storage space – both in the cloud and on your computers or devices. We’re sometimes amazed that people won’t spend anywhere from $11.88 (that’s 99 cents a month) to $100 for cloud storage for photos and videos. Whatever mobile platform you use, iOS or Android, there’s a way to buy cloud-based storage to back up any number of gigabytes you need for photos and videos on the fly. Just make sure you do it over a cellular network, which is preferable to a network that’s supposed to be secure, such as a hotel’s network. (See Safe Travels, Safe Wi-Fi.)

The extra cloud storage is the most effective and efficient way to make sure you have storage capacity, and it’s also the best way to make sure you don’t lose any photos or videos because you damage or lose your device. With many people taking vacations at places with water, including cruises, it’s all too easy to drop a phone into the water. You may lose the phone, but it’s replaceable. Your photos and videos are not.

Along that same line, newer cameras have the capability to send your photos automatically to your device or to back them up in the cloud. Although the files sent to your device may be smaller, getting them out of your camera keeps them safe in the event you lose your camera or damage its storage medium.

Getting back to a device, if its storage capacity is full, you’ll need to manually delete data, which could be photos, emails or files that are automatically downloaded by an app. Deletion steps will vary, but it’s an issue you can resolve before your trip.

If you are buying a new device, you can get one with more storage capacity. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that we use our phones for more than we think we will, including more photos and videos. You can use up 16 GB of storage very quickly, and it might be a better investment to spend, say, $100 more to get 64 GB of storage. If you spend the money on more storage now, it could increase the service life of your phone, which brings us to another point.

That other point is that many people tend to hang on to technology longer than they should – and fail to install all the software updates. The result is a slow system that leads to frustration and one that is wide open to a security breach (and that’s all we’ll say about that for now).

Here’s an example of one instance with a photo library with 100 GB of data. The system was too old to work with the pictures and email them – and there wasn’t enough hard disk space to work with the pictures. In addition, the photos on the computer hadn’t been backed up for two years. To make a long story short, it took an entire weekend to back up the photos so that the client could restore them to a new, faster system. Any money that might have been saved by hanging on to the old technology probably got eaten up by the time spent for an overdue upgrade.

Today’s technology is a much better value than yesterday’s latest-and-greatest equipment. Systems are faster, which enable them to handle more tasks in less time, and they can handle the latest software, which enables you to do more things. And the prices are the same, if not less.

The daunting part is trying to figure what will work best for you. Whether it’s a phone, a tablet or a computer, we can help you cut through all the hype to identify a system or cloud-based storage plan that meets your needs – nothing more and certainly nothing less. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about your needs and budgets.

Fraud’s Warning Signs

Anyone who tries to defraud you online – or even on the telephone – is literally banking your carelessness. Take a good look at emails and links and listen carefully on the phone. You can spot the fraud, and if you’re not sure, disengage and call the person you think contacted you – on the telephone – or send a new email, totally separate from the thread.

It’s important to be on “high alert” because the hackers and scammers are at the top of their game, and their targets include trusted advisors, such as accountants and tax preparers. We should state that these people should have secure systems in place and should know not to send or request sensitive, confidential information through email.

But at the end of the day, you need to take ownership of your privacy, so here are some tipoffs that a communication might not secure or might be out-and-out fraudulent.

First, does your accountant normally contact you by email? If not, that ought to raise a red flag. Second, can you absolutely verify that the email is from your accountant? While some email systems are good at spotting something fishy (or phishy), a scammer is betting that you’re not going to pay attention. Check the properties of an email address. It could very well be that cybercriminals were able to recreate the look and feel of an email from your accountant, but unless they actually got into the accountant’s server, a phony email will have a phony email address.

Attachments can be another tipoff to fraud. You should be suspicious if you get an email with attachments that are supposed to be forms, such as a tax form you need to fill out or a return to verify, are you being asked to provide your Social Security number and maybe your birthday? Can you open it without having to go to a secure website and enter a password? That doesn’t pass our initial smell test.

If your accountant does contact you about sensitive information or forms, are you referred to a secure website? Do you have that link with your access credentials safely stored? In a safe world, you can log into your account by entering the website address from your browser and entering your credentials.

If something doesn’t look right, you should always be able to call your accountant on the telephone.

And just to go one step farther this spring, here are some other things to be wary of.

Are you getting emails supposedly from someone you haven’t heard from in ages? And does have a short subject line, such as “hi”, with no message but a link? That’s a sign of fraud and clicking the link could open a breach in your system that can expose your sensitive data.

Are you getting Facebook friend requests from people who are already your friends? That’s generally a fraudulent request by someone looking to get into your system.

Anyone using fraudulent methods to get into your computer system may also be planting some kind of virus or malware to help infect other computers. If you think you may have clicked a link by mistake that could lead to a breach of your system, shut down your computer and disconnect it from the internet. Then call us – 973-433-6676 – so that we can apply our tools and expertise to minimize the damage and clean up your system.