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Sep
27
10 “Back To School” Tips To Protect Your Kids Online
Posted by Jon on 27 September 2013 01:34 PM

10 “Back To School” Tips To Protect Your Kids Online

The first day of school has come and gone for most of us here in America, and for our kids it’s the final nail in the coffin for Summer. For parents it’s often a time to celebrate a few more hours of quiet in the house after months of neighbor kids coming over, debates over what to eat for lunch (much to my kids dismay, I still contend that a fist full of Jolly Ranchers is not a good meal), and listening to countless hours of video games being played in the living room or rough-housing in the back yard.

By now we’re all pretty much back into the swing of things for the school year and all of the changes associated with it, including PTA meetings, before-and-after-school practices, and trying to figure out what the kids will wear for school pictures. (My mother is probably still cranky I wore a “Boss Hogg For President” t-shirt for my 5th grade school pictures waaay back in the day)

And, of course, we’re all making sure our kids are getting enough time to study, which nowadays more than likely means time on the family computer. We’ve compiled some tips and links to help you keep their study time a safe time.

  1. Teach Your Kids Internet Security Basics:

    Show your kids how to check for secure sites, setting up a good password, and things of that nature. Good habits start now, and teaching your kids how to stay safe now will follow them the rest of their lives.

  2. Keep Your PC In An Open Space:

    Any child under the age of 18 should probably be made to use a computer that’s in an open space. Perhaps at the kitchen table on a laptop, or with a desktop in a living room… something like that. This way you can casually glance over and see if anything inappropriate is being said. (Or shown!)

  3. Limit Socializing On The Computer:

    Computers are great, but I like to use the phrase “Everything in moderation” in our house when I tell them they only have an hour or two for fun on the computer or iPad. The kids get to do their Instagraming, Facebooking and tweeting, but they don’t get so engulfed in social media that they become antisocial in real life.

  4. Scan New Devices For Malware Every Time They’re Used:

    As your kids get older, they’ll start bringing home more data CDs, USB drives, and the like. It’s bad enough when they download stuff, but inserting devices into your computer opens up a whole new dimension to possible malware infection. Be sure that your Internet security software scans any new device or drive automatically.

  5. Only Post Parent-Approved Information:

    Once something goes on the Internet, it’s pretty much there to stay, even if you delete it. Because once those pictures, posts, etc. are made live, people can screenshot them, pass them to others, or re-share them. Make sure your kids know this, and only post things they wouldn’t mind you, their grandma, or grandpa seeing.

  6. Re-check Your Privacy Settings:

    Software and services are always changing things up with their privacy settings. (Looking at you, Facebook) Stay on top of your game and periodically check for any changes that may affect your kids, and in particular their online accounts.

  7. Mind Your Manners:

    It’s nice to be nice, and nowhere is that more true than online. Sometimes it seems like most of the folks commenting on anything out there are trolls who have nothing better to do that try to bring someone else down. Make sure your kids mind their P’s and Q’s and help make the Internet a nicer place to visit.

  8. Sometimes It’s NOT Nice To Share:

    TMI, or “Too Much Information”, is a problem, especially on social media. It’s one thing to share what you had for dinner, or the picture of your cat that makes you laugh. It’s a whole other ballgame to get too detailed or explicit about, well, pretty much anything. Kids should know where the line between appropriate and inappropriate is, and that they shouldn’t cross it.

  9. And Sometimes It’s OK To Tattle:

    Cyberbullying is a big problem, and when it happens, kids should be empowered to tell any and every time it happens.

  10. Avoid The Noid Strangers:

    Last but not least is the parent favorite: Don’t talk to strangers. Even those online. If your kids don’t know someone, they shouldn’t be chatting with them. And if things start to go south during a conversation, they can just shut off the computer and walk away, or even get you or another adult to help intervene.

  11. BONUS: Turn Off Location-Based Information On Devices

    On any smartphone, tablet, or any other device that allows you to display your location, be sure to turn it OFF for kids! Letting your kids post from home while displaying their geo-location lets everyone know where they live as soon as they post. The same goes for Exif data in cameras: Find out how to turn geolocation off before it becomes an issue.

Like anything we do, good online habits are formed over years of doing the same things over and over. Start practicing them now with your kids and soon it’ll become second nature to you all.

Image courtesy of twix

If you're looking for great anti-virus software that won't break the bank, try StopSign. You don't pay extra for tech support for difficult malware, and our web protection software just works. Download & install StopSign to find out why our members choose us over the other options.


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Aug
23
Smartphone Pictures, Exif, and Personal Privacy
Posted by Jon on 23 August 2013 03:37 PM

Smartphone Pictures, Exif, and Personal Privacy

They’re everywhere. In our homes. Offices. Schools. They contain sensitive information about us, identify our children, and have enough data about us to let criminals walk right into our homes. I’m talking, of course, about the digital photos on your smart phone.

An over-dramatization? Perhaps, but not by a lot. Recently there’s been a lot of chatter online about digital pictures and privacy. You’ve probably seen the Facebook status updates or buzz on other social media channels about how cell phone pictures can be a danger to your family’s safety. Snopes.com even posted about it recently and gave the topic a green light, which means after reviewing the facts they deem it true. The pictures you take with your smartphone can rat you out to the world.

The truth of the matter is that most devices with cameras these days (most notably smartphones) can add GPS or other location-aware data to your digital images, and can also add dates, times, and other information that could be used to track you down, much like they helped track down a high-profile antivirus software developer who was being sought after by authorities in late last year. This data is called “Exif” (Exchangeable image file format) and can be used to pinpoint your location when a photo was taken. Standalone digital cameras don’t often automatically add this information, but it’s best to check with the manufacturer to be certain.

A sample scenario of a potential privacy breach is as follows: Let’s say you take a picture of your kids at your home with your iPhone. If you don’t have your privacy settings set up in such a way that the Exif data is stripped, the latitude and longitude of where you took the picture is now embedded in the file. Upload that to your blog and now people can grab your image, parse out the Exif data, and find the approximate location of your home. It doesn’t take a tech genius to figure out that within a few hours anyone who saw that picture can be at your doorstep.

Fortunately it’s usually a pretty straightforward task to strip out Exif data (see “verexif.com“, “imageoptim.com” for Macs, or just do a Google search for “remove photo exif data” for more resources). To prevent geo-tagging information to be added to your images in smartphones in the first place, use this guide:

  • iOS 6:
    • Open Settings > Privacy > Location Services
    • Find the entry for Camera and swipe the button to the “OFF” position.
  • Android:
    • Because the User Interfaces for each Android device is different for each manufacturer, it’s not as easy to tell you how to turn off Exif geo-tagging. The settings are likely under the “Settings” icon, but the exact path may be different. You may need to hunt a bit for the option.
    • Note: There are apps that you can download which can help. Find out more details on this blog: “How to Scrub the EXIF Data from Photos on Your Android Phone Before Sharing Them“.

The up side to all of this is that certain social networks such as Facebook and Twitter proactively strip out Exif data, but that can change in the future and I personally wouldn’t trust it if you’re really concerned about data telling the world where your pictures were taken. Your best bet is to prevent the Exif geotagging from happening in the first place by being proactive about it with your devices.

Image courtesy of clanlife

If you're looking for great anti-virus software that won't break the bank, try StopSign. You don't pay extra for tech support for difficult malware, and our web protection software just works. Download & install StopSign to find out why our members choose us over the other options.


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Aug
7
On the Importance of Performing Backups
Posted by Anthony on 07 August 2013 04:22 PM

On The Importance of Backups - 04

Having worked intimately with computers from the early 1980s onward, there is one universal truth I’ve learned everybody will eventually face if they use computers long enough: No matter how much technology improves, you will always face the potential loss of data.

The More Technology Changes, the More It Stays the Same

Back in the “good ‘ol days” when programs and data were physically punched into strips of paper, those strips had a tendency to get worn or misaligned, causing them to read improperly, and it wasn’t uncommon for entire stacks of punch cards to be misplaced, particularly if you happened to be sharing computing time in a busy university with other eager (and possibly disorganized) grad students.

In the 80s, when many of us were coveting our friend’s shiny new 50MB MFM hard drive and storing the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets with our family finances on 5-1/4″ floppy disks, the threat of those oh-so-fragile squares with their exposed magnetic surfaces and complete lack of rigidity failing to read or write properly was an ever-looming one. Phrases such as “don’t touch the jellybean” were often thrown around to reinforce handling practices in an effort to avoid a deadly fingerprint in just the wrong spot. Even the most conscientious of us ruined a floppy disk or two. I am personally guilty of leaving a pile of floppy disks sitting in a tightly closed Volvo. Parked under the noon sun. While living in the Caribbean. Those floppy disks never forgave me.

The 90s brought us larger and more affordable hard drives, and too many people learned that the convenient, sturdy, and abundant space came with a new price. Conventional hard drive technology at the time depended upon tiny read and write heads mounted at the very tip of moving arms, which would glide happily over the surface of large spinning platters, and this was a good system that has survived even into many of today’s hard drives. The problem occurs when either the electromagnetic motor responsible for spinning the platters begins to give out, the bearings the platters rode on started to overheat and fail, or worse yet, the read / write heads came into destructive contact with the surface of the platters, a condition that became known as a hard drive “crash,” so named because the read / write head physically “crashes” into the surface of the spinning platter, irrevocably destroying it. An industrious person with the proper tools and training can indeed replace a worn motor or transplant the platters containing critical data to another drive, but for most people facing a drive crash, there is no recovering the lost data.

Buy a new drive today, and chances are good you’re looking at a solid state hard drive (SSD), and rightfully so. Solid state hard drives trade the large, heavy array of spinning platters for semiconductors, which store information with no moving parts to wear out. Modern solid state hard drives have breathtaking read speeds, helping your programs load faster and making your data available to you sooner. Because they don’t expend power to keep moving parts up to speed, solid state hard drives have been known to use a fraction of the power of a traditional hard drive, particularly when nothing is actively being read or written to the drive.

All things considered, solid state hard drives sound like a wonder, but these too come with a new price. The critical component of the solid state hard drive is the semiconductor cell the data is stored in, and as resilient as those cells are, they can only be written to a number of times before they finally fail. As each cell fails, most drives will automatically attempt to relocate the data around the dead cells, but drive failure is still eventually inevitable.

Read through the various drive manufacturer specifications and you’ll see there is wide-ranging debate as to the real-world lifespan of the modern solid state drive, but truth be told, in this age of mobile computing, lost, damage, and theft are very real threats not to be ignored. There is also the possibility of the mis-click that leads to accidentally deleting your own files.

What is Your Time and Data Worth to You?

In the event your drive fails and has to be replaced, you will find yourself facing the time and effort to reinstall your operating system, any additional programs you need on your computer, and restoring your personal files. If you use a computer purely for surfing web sites or reading email, the failure of a hard drive, loss of a laptop, or theft of a tablet may simply be a one-time inconvenience between the cost of new equipment and an hour or two setting your machine back up to where you like it.

On The Importance of Backups - 00

A home office or professional user is likely facing a few extra hours of reinstalling software, although this might still fall under the category of an inconvenience for many people. However, once you start adding family photos, personal finances, personal artwork, the office work you took home for the weekend, that manuscript you never finished, or the doctoral thesis you’ve spent two years working on, inconvenience may no longer be a strong enough word.

The good news is that your backup options have grown along with the technology. You no longer need to rely on sequentially numbered floppy disks. Gone are the days of bulky tape backups that took hours to run.

Head in the Clouds

For those home users who stick with a basic install of Windows and are mostly concerned about photos and other various documents, cloud storage is an excellent option as it not only allows you to back up files you can’t bear to lose but also allows you access to the files from practically any device with a connection to the Internet.

There are many cloud storage options available to you, and without concern for whether you are camping with Apple, Microsoft, Linux, etc., there is a good possibility you already have cloud storage set aside with your name on it, ready and waiting for you.

If you have a Gmail account, Google Drive starts you off with 15 GB of free storage with more being added seemingly every day.

Have a Windows Live account? Microsoft has 7 GB of free storage already attached to your account as well as a convenient desktop app allowing you to integrate your storage into the operating system as if it were a local drive.

Apple has 5 GB of free storage waiting for you to claim it.

If you’re looking for even more storage and automatic backups across all your devices (desktops, laptops, tablets, phones), DropBox and SugarSync offer strong features and stable mobile apps worth looking at.

Still not enough storage? There are plenty of services available to you. Even Amazon has gotten into the game with 5 GB of free storage.

Have Your Backup and Take It with You

On The Importance of Backups - 3

If the thought of an Internet connection being essential to your backup or having your data be in the hands of someone else leaves you feeling a little uneasy, you certainly aren’t alone. Flash drives are a possible alternative for a user who is mostly concerned with backing up documents but also wants their data under their control and available regardless of whether they have an Internet connection.

Flash drives now come with a tremendous amount of storage space for fairly affordable prices, tend to be quite a bit faster than backing up over a network, and allow you to physically control your data at all times. If you have business-related encryption keys the ownership of which must be safeguarded and accounted for at all times, this may be an option second only to biometrics.

In the flash drive arena, as with the cloud storage option, you also have several options available including the no-frills storage device, weather and vibration proof models, flash drives encased in crush-proof tubes, drives with digital locks and biometric fingerprint scanners, and even a flash drive that self-destructs should you enter an incorrect password.

Probably the largest negative argument to be made about flash drives over cloud storage is that it moves the weak point in the system from being the network connection to being the user. The user must remember to plug the flash drive into the machine and back up their data. The user must remember to take the flash drive with them when the backup is done. Finally, the user has to take steps to safeguard the drive, which necessarily involves making sure it does not stay with the backed up computer. Cloud storage has offsite backup built-in by its nature. In the event of fire or burglary, you’ll be glad you did not keep your originals and backups together. I personally keep my trusty flash drive on my key ring, and it rarely leaves my sight.

For many people, a viable alternative to dedicated flash drives is a mobile phone. Most people keep their mobile phones with them nearly at all times, and most modern mobile phones are capable of acting as a removable drive, many by default when connected to a computer via a USB cable. As a bonus, most modern mobile phones also charge via a USB.On The Importance of Backups - 1

The Weakest Link

There are clearly countless options available to suit practically every user’s needs, but whatever backup plan you adopt, it is essential it be one you can maintain. A backup is only as good as how often it’s made. If the backup routine you implement is so cumbersome you find yourself putting it off day-after-day, week-after-week, it won’t matter how securely you’ve safeguarded the actual backup. Any files that don’t make it to your backup is work you have to recreate, memories you may never get back, and time and money lost. How much are your files worth to you?

If you're looking for great anti-virus software that won't break the bank, try StopSign. You don't pay extra for tech support for difficult malware, and our web protection software just works. Download & install StopSign to find out why our members choose us over the other options.


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Jul
23
Outbreak Alert – Trojan.Win32.Medfos.m
Posted by Anthony on 23 July 2013 01:38 AM

Outbreak Alerts by StopSign Internet Security let you know when specific malware infections are trending, describe what they do, and provide tips on how to avoid them.

What Trojan.Win32.Medfos.m Does:

  • Downloads Malicious Rogue Anti-Virus Packages
  • Significantly Slows Down the Infected Machine
  • Displays False Error Messages

How It Infects:

  • Can be distributed by any means, including but not limited to: Email attachments, instant message attachments, infected websites, infected media or document files, peer-to-peer file sharing networks, or even downloaded by other malware;
  • Infection can also be found in hyperlinks to infected websites from email, instant messages, and social networking messages or posts.

How To Avoid Infection:

  • Use extreme caution when you receive a link or attachment from anyone, even those you know;
  • Do not download unknown files or files from unknown sources;
  • If using StopSign Internet Security, be sure the On-Access Scan is installed and enabled;
  • Scan all downloaded files with a malware threat scanner, such as StopSign Internet Security, before executing them;
  • Ensure that all updates are installed from Microsoft Update to help protect against vulnerabilities in the operating system.

Type: Downloader

Technical Name: Trojan.Win32.Medfos.m

Aliases:

  • Trojan.Packed.24060
  • W32/Medfos.B.gen!Eldorado
  • Trojan:Win32/Medfos.X
  • Medfos.CY
  • Medfos-FAYZ!962FB547D0C7

If you're looking for great anti-virus software that won't break the bank, try StopSign. You don't pay extra for tech support for difficult malware, and our web protection software just works. Download & install StopSign to find out why our members choose us over the other options.


Read more »