How You Like ‘Dem Apples?

Apple device users have a lot to celebrate. The new iPhone 5 was introduced, and the new iOS6 operating system was made available for newer iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches. There’s a lot to talk about, most of it good news.

The models that can accept the new iOS6 are the iPhone 3GS and newer, iPad 2 and newer and fourth generation iPod Touch and newer.

As you would expect, I have my new iPhone 5, and I really like the bigger screen, the thinner device size, the lighter weight and the much faster speed. The 4G speed on the new iPhone could be faster than some home computers, and that can be good and bad.

The good? No explanation needed.

The bad? Getting all that streaming content in all its glory can be very addictive, and you can exceed the limits of your data plan before you know what hit you. So, make sure you’re on a Wi-Fi connection before you go wild.

The iPhone and new iOS are generally good, and I recommend them. However, like all new technology, some upgrades will be needed:

  • Apple’s maps are not up to the Google maps, but they will catch up. Both mapping systems are based on input from use data, and as more people use Apple maps and add more data, the quality will improve. It took a while for Google to get where it is today.
  • Siri seems to be on a break every time I ask her for some information.  Got to make sure she’s on the job.
  • Passbook has a bug that won’t let you connect to the iTunes store.

We’re pretty sure we’ll see iOS6.01 in the near future.

We’ve seen a few posts on some sites that might interest you.

  • Although the iPhone 5 is a 4G phone, you might notice you’re talking on a 3G connection. That’s because it’s clearer – for now. They’re working on making 4G voice clearer.
  • If you’re on the Verizon network:
    • Your iPhone 5 has international capability
    • Your iPhone 5 is unlocked, enabling you to use a SIM card to switch to the AT&T and Sprint network at 3G

On the whole, we recommend installing the new iOS6 on your Apple device if you are able to. If you have any questions about  the new phone or OS, we’d be happy to answer them by phone – 973-433-6676 – or email.

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

Office 365 Coming to Your Home

We’ve always been proponents of cloud-based computing. You can keep your applications up to date and your data secure – and pricing has always been good for businesses. Now, Microsoft is about to make cloud computing more accessible for home and small-business users with Office 365 Home Premium and Small Business Premium.

According to a recent post by Microsoft, a single subscription to Office 365 Home Premium covers up to five users, essentially an entire household.  Each user can each sign-in with an individual Microsoft account with its own settings, and all users can access their own documents. Each subscription includes:

  • All Office applications: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access, and Publisher. (However, only PCs can use OneNote, Publisher and Access.)
  • The ability to use Office on PCs or Macs – a real benefit for multi-platform households that will no longer need to buy separate versions
  • Nearly 3 times the amount of SkyDrive storage with an additional 20GB over the 7GB you get for free.
  • 60 minutes of SkypeTM world calling per month – but restrictions apply

Microsoft is also offering the new Office 365 Small Business Premium for organizations with 1-10 users. Each gets:

  • All the Office applications: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Access, and Publisher plus Lync. (Again, however, only PCs can use OneNote, Publisher and Access.)
  • The ability to use Office on up to five PCs or Macs for a single user. Users also have flexibility to change their five devices at any time, and full featured Office applications are available for temporary use on any PC.
  • A 25 GB Outlook mailbox, shared calendar, contact manager, scheduling and task-list tools, and 10 GB professional-grade cloud storage for the organization plus 500 MB per user.
  • The ability to host online meetings with audio and video using one-click screen sharing and HD video conferencing (HD video camera required)
  • The ability to set up, build, and maintain a public-facing website with no additional hosting fees.

Premium licenses are regularly updated, giving you the latest features and services.  A free 30-day trial will be available online for both packages. The Home Premium package is $99.99 per year, and the Small Business Premium package is $149.99 per year.

We can answer any questions you have about the new online Office 365 packages and help you will installations and configurations. We believe it’s a smart way to go for better cost-efficiency and for keeping your systems up to date and secure. Call us at 973-433-6676 or drop us an email to discuss it.

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

Getting Straight with Windows 8

Microsoft is scheduled to release its new Windows 8 operating system Oct. 26, and for the first time in almost 25 years of tech support, we have some real concerns about a new OS

Windows 8 makes a drastic change in the computer interface, starting with the elimination of the Start menu. It’s going to take users a lot of time to get used to the new way. In a lot of ways, we expect the learning curve to simulate that of the switch from Office 2003 to Office 2007. It was not a well-received upgrade, but we all got used to it, and many of us are happily humming along with Office 2010. (We’ll have more to say about Office in our next article of this newsletter.)

Windows also has a track record since Windows 98, in our opinion, of making every other OS release an intermediate step before another upgrade. Windows 2000 was quickly replaced by XP, and many IT managers kept it as their OS, skipping over Vista to Windows 7.

Windows 8 impresses us as an OS that’s more designed for tablets and – by extension of the concept – mobile devices. It will work on desktop and laptop computers, but here are some red flags:

  • You likely will not be able to go directly to Windows 8 with all of your existing software packages.
  • We don’t know how well the software publishers will support the new OS. Their support will depend on how well their customers buy and install Windows 8.

On the other hand, here a couple of reassuring factors:

  • Although computer manufacturers will go to Windows 8, you will have an option to have Windows 7 installed – and we’re betting a lot of people will take that option.
  • We will continue to support Windows 7 and the software packages designed to run on that OS.

One other thing to keep in mind if you’re still running XP is that Microsoft will stop supporting that OS within the next 18 months or so. If you want to continue using your XP, we can help you with some work-arounds, but that may not be your best move.

Call us at 973-433-6676 or email us to talk about how you can get the most out of your hardware and software systems for near-term and long-term effectiveness and cost-efficiency.

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

Lowdown on Hijacked Email

Emailing information is fast and convenient. We do it often without a second thought – and that discarded second thought can come back as a painful reminder that you need to be careful to prevent your email address from being hijacked.

There really isn’t a lot you can do about hiding your email address or anything else, for that matter, even if you never go online. That really came home to us personally when we moved this summer. The purchase of our new house, the sale of our old house – everything – was public record. My email address is out there because it’s part of my business. I want people to contact me.

So, it’s there, and it can be planted like a seed. What happens? Well, you might be one of 25 people getting a message as an addressee or cc. If someone has hacked one of those person’s email accounts, it’s like the fox getting into the henhouse.

Here’s what can happen. All the hacker needs to do is substitute an email address for any one of the 25 addresses in the list. If I’m one of those people, for example, my name only, Norman Rosenthal, might appear in the list. But unless you hover your mouse over my name, you won’t see my email address: [email protected]. If hacked, the message to Norman Rosenthal could unknowingly go to [email protected]. (More hacking originates from Russian domains than anywhere else in the world.) So, when you hit Reply to All, the message – and all those names – go to a bad guy who can try to penetrate everyone’s computer.  If he’s successful, he can plant a virus or malware of some sort on every computer in an address book that doesn’t have good protection. He can send a scam message and get a bite, or – if you read the previous article, the bad guy can get into an Outlook file that has user names and passwords for bank accounts.

You can prevent your email address from being hijacked by using some common sense and taking a few precautions.

  • Most obvious, if something looks funny or out of character, don’t open the email or click on links. If a request from a friend doesn’t seem right, pick up the phone and call if you must do something. Otherwise, just delete it.
  • Use strong passwords for all online access to your email accounts.
  • If you’re sending usernames, passwords or account numbers, don’t send it to a big list. Send it to one person and send it in a series of emails. Put part of the info in each email. That way, if one gets intercepted by chance, the hacker likely will not be able to piece all the info together.
  • Use bcc if you must send a message to a long list of email addresses. It will prevent those massive Reply-to-All responses. Remember, if 25 people send Reply-to-All responses, those addresses are being exposed 225 times.
  • If you’re buying or selling something over the Internet, such as on Craig’s List, hover over names and email addresses and make sure it feels right to you.

We’re available by email or phone – 973-433-6676 – if you have any questions about ways to prevent your email address from being hijacked.

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

Credit Cards: Small Businesses are Big Targets

Accepting credit cards is a way of life for many small businesses, and most owners don’t give a second thought to extra layers of data security. After all, what can a small mom-and-pop store have that would be attractive to hackers? Well, as it turns out, small businesses are big targets because they’re pretty easy to hack – and a valid credit card number is a treasure.

The Wall Street Journal a year ago chronicled the tale of a newsstand owner with two stores who was victimized. And even though he thought he was taking precautions to protect his customers’ data, cyber thieves planted a software program on the cash registers at his shops that sent customer credit-card numbers to Russia. At the time the story was written, he was out about $22,000 because the credit-card company said he didn’t do enough. They said his weak password for his cash-register software, pos, was easy for hackers to try.

But a weak password is only part of the problem for most small businesses. Too many small businesses store passwords to sensitive data in Outlook or other email clients, and the data can frequently be found easily hacked Excel spreadsheets. Even if you have antivirus and antimalware software, there are numerous ways that hackers can find their way into your system. For some, it’s like taking candy from a baby.

However, you can put up some protective fences around your data. The measures may cost a little more money than you’d like, but those costs are smaller than the liability you could face from a breach of your data.

  • Get “business-grade” antivirus and antimalware software. We offer it for $4.25/mo/computer, and we set it up and monitor your threat activity. In addition, we assist you on any software changes you make to ensure that your virus and malware protection remain at your expected level of performance. Why is this important? You need to protect yourself against somebody installing a Trojan horse that can turn up years later. The newsstand owner’s system was compromised two years before anything happened. You can have the same protection that big corporations buy.
  • Don’t keep user names and passwords in Outlook folders or Excel files. To be honest, they shouldn’t be on a computer. You should write them down on a piece of paper and store them under lock-and-key. Having your data compromised through an email backdoor is a growing problem. (See Lowdown on Hijacked Email, the next article in this newsletter issue.) If you get an email from your bank, credit-card processor or PayPal, don’t just click and reply. Hover over any link or email address and see where it’s really going. Better still, go to your provider’s website independently of the email or pick up the phone and call customer service.
  • Use strong passwords. If I had a nickel for every a-b-c or 1-2-3 password I’ve seen, I’d be managing a large investment portfolio instead of IT systems. Make your passwords long or complex or both. Use uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters.
  • Keep your Wi-Fi network secure. Networks are all over the place in commercial and residential areas. Just take out your smartphone and see how many networks are in your range. If your network is unprotected, anyone can sit in range unnoticed for as long as they need to find a pathway to your valuables

We would welcome the opportunity to provide a free risk-management assessment of your practices and systems. Call us at 973-433-6676 or send us an email and feel more secure.

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

The Device Trap

When I was a kid in New Jersey, we were careful about having long telephone conversations with people in California because it was very expensive. Last summer, my wife and I thought nothing about calling our kids in New Jersey from our vacation in Australia because an Internet phone call was free.  We associate the Internet with free, but that can be a costly trap when streaming content over the ‘Net onto tablets and smartphones.

What used to be a mobile telephone is now a “connect from anywhere for anything” device. Besides talking on one, we use it for email, calendars, web browsing and a growing number of apps that allow us to buy coffee or whatever at Starbucks or turn off the lights in our homes from hundreds of miles away. Apps also allow us to watch a TV show, sporting event or movie on our device from any place with enough available bandwidth.

It’s all so cool that many people don’t pay attention to how many gigabytes of information they download for music and movies – in addition to browsing the web or checking email.

I’ll have a few words about email later in this article because it deserves a special look. But for now, let’s focus on streaming content.

If you have your device connected to a Wi-Fi network, it’s the same usage as sitting at a desktop computer. You’re not using a cellular network. However, as soon as you tap into that 4G network, your provider can see, measure and charge you for all the bandwidth you’re sucking out of the network.

Yet, our providers have conditioned most of us to use our devices. Voice (telephone conversations) and texting are low-cost, high-margin products for them to give you. So, it’s easy for you to buy hundreds of phone minutes and dozens, if not unlimited, text messages. It’s a natural extension of this conditioning to check football scores or breaking news stories, for example, and then watch the video highlights on a phone or tablet that’s connected to the mobile network.

Before you know it, you’re hit with overcharges, unless you’re one of those rare souls who monitor the use of each device on your plan. But that’s not the only function that eats bandwidth.

Remember email? With built-in cameras, we can take pictures or video with our smartphones and send them directly to family and friends. Have you looked at the size of those files? The iPhone default, just to make the point, is 2 megabytes – enough to print a huge enlargement of a picture you’re going to delete. That’s bandwidth. The videos of kids and pets doing cute things? Even more bandwidth. Those YouTube videos or feature movies? Major bandwidth.

Eventually the prices providers charge will come down as market forces and economies of scale kick in. In the meantime, there are things you can do and urge your friends and family to do to reduce bandwidth and move the cool stuff and data faster. You might want to pass these along.

  • Choose a smaller file size when emailing pictures. Unless somebody is looking to blow up a picture to hang on a wall, a small, lower-resolution file will look just fine on a tablet, laptop or smartphone screen.
  • Connect to a Wi-Fi network whenever possible. Just about every smartphone or tablet on the market today gives you the ability to seek a network connection. Make that connection whether it’s at a coffee shop, restaurant, supermarket, office building, home, airport or Amtrak network.
  • Be aware of bandwidth. Just as we did when we called “long distance” to California, realize that there are limits and costs and make the choice to use your bandwidth on your terms.
  •  Maximize your network’s power. There are many ways to make sure you get a strong-enough Internet connection to any part of your office or home. We covered that in our May newsletter article about routers.

We can upgrade your home or business network to reduce cellular network use. We also would be happy to do a lunch-and-learn at your business or speak before a group to show you ways to enjoy all the cool content out there without breaking the piggy bank.  Give us a call at 973-433-6676 or drop us an email to take the next step.

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