News

A false sense of security: The data is backed up, but can you still access it?

The accessibility of older data is taken for granted by most of us, and remains a looming problem for businesses and governments across the planet. A client recently needed to print out her calendar from a few years ago, in order to provide documentation of her expenses for an IRS audit. Problem was, she had made the switch from Window PC to the Mac OS environment a few years ago, and decided to simply archive her previous data. In theory, she should have been fine. That PC data was in an archive that, in a pinch, could be restored and drawn upon “later.” But in practical terms, the archive was a disaster. As the years went by, it was decided that the Windows platform really served no further purpose. The Mac platform was not only preferable, but also capable of doing everything the client needed it to do. Her Windows partition was deleted, and space was reclaimed for her growing Mac data.

 

 

All seemed just fine, until she needed her calendar from a few years ago. In the switch to the Mac platform, she also changed companies she was working for. Company archives, therefore, were no longer available. When it came to the audit, she was basically on her own, with an older Windows archive that she couldn’t access. Why couldn’t she access it? Because the Windows platform had been provided by her previous employer. She no longer had the Windows OS installed, nor any of the Windows platform versions of Microsoft Outlook. (For those of you unfamiliar with Windows, calendar information is stored in Outlook). Now she faced hiring a tech to re-create the Windows platform (for which no space was available on her hard drive), re-purchasing Outlook and having it re-installed, then importing the archived files – all so she could print out her calendar for an audit of a few years ago. A nightmare, to be sure. and she is not alone in this revelation.

Many users discover that as time goes on, their older data, which may have been created with earlier version of certain software, can no longer be accessed in the latest Mac OS environment. Case in point, Quicken 2007 no longer works in Lion (10.7) or Mountain Lion (10.8). Filemaker databases created prior to Filemaker Version 6, cannot be accessed by Filemaker version 12. They must first be converted by an earlier version of Filemaker (such as 10 or 11), THEN be converted AGAIN to be accessible to Filemaker 12. What if the user upgraded their Mac to Mountain Lion without a valid backup (it happens, a lot), then go past the point of no return? They can’t launch Filemaker 6 anymore, nor find a copy of Filemaker 11. To their credit, Filemaker (owned by Apple) will allow you to download a temporary downgrade of Filemaker 11 for the purpose of making the conversion, but many users are easily lost in this process. And, we don’t know how long Filemaker will make that offer available online. What happens once Filemaker Pro version 16 is released?

 

Some software developers abandon users of older versions altogether once the software evolves beyond a certain version of Operating System. Intuit, the makers of Quicken, assumed their customers would embrace online solutions for financial record keeping. They didn’t count on so many being adverse to basically posting their financial lives online.  A revolt ensued, and a $15 “patch” for Quicken 2007 was released that allowed access to older Quicken files on Mac OS 10.7.x. But even that didn’t offer all of the functionality of the original.  Eventually, Quicken Essentials was released, and the storm subsided.

 

A lot of what we techs do involves upgrading and converting software, and data, for our clients, so that they can continue to use the data they rely on once they purchase the newest Macs.

The problem of keeping archives accessible is not new. Imagine what the Smithsonian Museum faces every day. Several years ago, government agencies recognized the daunting task of upgrading databases so that older archives could still be drawn upon in future generations. I’m referring to future generations of machines, not just people. Some of you may have an old Video 8, or even 16MM film reel in a drawer or closet somewhere at home. If you don’t have the original projector or camcorder, you’ll have to hire a company to digitize the footage for you. And those services are becoming harder to find too. Or, you can turn to the internet and sites like Ebay to try to locate a working machine yourself.

 

Then there is the problem of degradation. Those tapes (and film) become brittle over time, and could snap, ending up in a tangled mess wrapped around the spools in some VCR somewhere.  Even CDs and DVDs deteriorate. They are not as indestructible as people think. Just ask my four year old. That’s the end of that disk.  What about Zip disks, or floppies, or Syquest storage media? How about the files on that old Apple Centris 650 you had in 1992? Can you still fire that up and retrieve them? The Centris didn’t have a USB port. That Mac sported a 230 MEG hard drive at the time, and was considered BIG.

 

Having a copy of that old data somewhere is simply not enough anymore. The good news is there is still time. If you have old files that you don’t want to lose, you can still regenerate them onto more current media, like CDs, DVDs, or external hard drives.  Making the switch from another platform? Take the time now to make that data fully accessible on the Mac OS.  If you’re not sure how to do it, have someone do it for you. Export that calendar and import it back into iCal, or Google calendar, or something else current and Mac-friendly.  Create PDFs of your files, so that they can be read on any platform (this is ESPECIALLY useful for important emails.)  And don’t count on that five-year old hard drive to work forever. Ten years from now, it may not even spin up when you try to turn it on. Don’t rely on online backup services only. If they suddenly close up shop, do you have a hard copy of your data somewhere?

 

Check you media (disks, hard drives, DVDs) from time to time, and make sure you can still get to your stuff.  Copy it onto newer media. Media – that is, storage devices like external drives, flash drives, etc. are getting faster and smaller all the time, so it shouldn’t take that much time to do it. Otherwise, be prepared to lose it.  See our free online video clips on how to create PDFs of any file, or a short tutorial on various media types (coming soon).

The Apple iMac Hard Drive Replacement Program – What you should do

Over the past few days, clients who own iMacs have asked us what to do in response to an email they’ve received from Apple. The email advises that:

 

Apple has determined that certain 1TB Seagate hard drives used in 21.5-inch and 27-inch iMac systems may fail. These systems were sold between October 2009 and July 2011.

 

If the iMac seems to be running just fine, do we really need to bring the computer in to Apple to have the drive replaced? That depends on your tolerance for risk and hassle. It goes without saying that you should have a complete backup of all of your data already set up, in case of hard drive failure. I’ve explained the reasons for this in great detail in previous articles, as well as provided a video clip on how to configure Time Machine (the program that creates backups for you) already built into the system.

 

Personally, I find the 1TB size of the drive limiting, and would opt instead for upgrading the drive to something larger (something you would have to pay for – it is NOT an option offered as part of this replacement from Apple). But, for many folks out there, who only use their iMacs for internet and email, the 1TB size is just fine.

 

It seems pretty clear that in order for Apple to go through this whole replacement program, there must be some serious flaw they’ve discovered in some of the drives provided by Seagate for this series of iMac models. While the drives are covered for three years from date of purchase (if you also purchased the extended Applecare warranty), that warranty would have expired by now – so Kudos to Apple for making the offer in the first place.

 

If it were my machine, and I didn’t have a need for a larger drive anyway, I would go ahead and take Apple up on the offer. But, there are some preparations necessary before you haul that beautiful machine down to the local Apple Store Genius Bar.

 

First, make absolutely sure your backup is complete and current. Then, realize that Apple will NOT transfer your data for you as part of the replacement program. That is something you would have to arrange for yourself. And finally, keep in mind that schlepping the computer to the Apple store also means you may be without it for up to ten days (though Apple usually has a much faster turn-around time than that). From our understanding of the program, Apple will take your computer, remove the original drive, and replace it with a new drive, formatting it to Apple specks. In the email they sent, you’ll note that they say you will need your original installation disks. Hmm. Looks like you’ll be installing the OS back onto the hard drive yourself? Not likely. They surely will be handing you your iMac with the original factory OS installed, so that the system can be tested after the hard drive has been replaced.

IF you’ve since upgraded to a more recent OS, installed programs, updates and so forth, NONE of those will appear on the iMac when you retrieve it from the store. Take the time NOW, prior to bringing it to Apple, to check the version of the OS on your machine. To do that, click on the Apple icon at the top left corner, and then select “About this Mac”. Write down the OS version (10.5.8, 10.6, 10.7 or 10.8) You’ll want to restore your iMac to the SAME version or higher when you get it back.

 

Before you have a coronary, know that restoring isn’t very difficult, as long as you have a complete and current backup available at home, and a bit of time.

 

Once your get your iMac home again, and if you didn’t run any upgrades since you purchased it, simply connect the external backup drive via firewire, launch your iMac, and navigate to the Utilities folder in your Applications folder. Find the Migration Assistant, and launch it. You’ll be able to restore all of your profiles and data using the assistant. The interface for doing so is fairly self-explanatory.

 

If you did upgrade the computer since your initial purchase (and who hasn’t to some degree?), you’ll want to wait to attach that backup drive, and instead, upgrade the OS again.  Why? Because it’s always better to migrate into a completely updated, newly installed system, rather than move upgrades from a backup into an older system.

 

What this means is you’ll want to bring that baby home, get it online, and run all of your updates. Depending on what OS you were running before you brought it in, you’ll want to install whatever upgrades you need to bring it back to that level. If you had OS 10.7.4 before, you’ll want to upgrade your iMac back to 10.7.4 BEFORE you migrate your data back from the update. The iMac may only be running 10.6.8 or even the earlier 10.5.8 when you get it back.

 

And this is where the hassle-factor comes in. The replacement program is not a simple “bring-it-in-swap-it-out-go-back-to-work” procedure. There is some work involved in getting it all done right. For some, it’s daunting. For others, it’s part of the maintenance routine required to keep their computers in tip -top shape. Some users regularly backup their drives, wipe them, reformat them, re-install the OS, and migrate the data backup back in – creating a clean, lean, apple machine – once a year. They are the “Felix Ungers” of the computer world, but I digress . . .

 

If you’re not comfortable going through all of that, note that you have until April of 2013 to decide what, if anything, you want to do about it. You may want to just hire someone like us to do the leg work, and migration, for you. It’s also possible that Apple will do the data restoration for a small additional fee, once you bring the machine in. Or, you could decide to just skip it, and take your chances. It’s up to you.

 

Before you feel too outraged about the hassle factor, keep in mind that Apple is offering this replacement well after the warranty period for many of you has expired – something they technically don’t have to do. The fact is, hard drives are very much like the tires of an automobile. It’s not a question of  “if”, but rather “when” that should concern you.

 

I’ve said it many times before on this site. At some point, your hard drive WILL fail, and whatever was on it will be irretrievable unless you have a backup copy. It’s up to you to make sure you have a current backup, on an external drive or online.  Frankly I believe external, local drives attached to the computer are better. Restoring from an online backup is incredibly, painfully slow – and in my opinion, not nearly as reliable.

As long as have your backup, you should have nothing to worry about.

The Godaddy Phenomenon: Why many websites, as well as many email accounts, went down yesterday.

As if to underscore our collective vulnerability, many of us lost access to our websites and our email accounts yesterday. Some reports stated it was a DOS (denial of service) attack, while Godaddy insists it was an internal issue that brought their site, and their client sites and email, down for as much as five hours.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Godaddy, it’s a domain registrar, web hosting and email hosting company. If you decide to start your own website, such as “mywebsite.com”, you would first need to go online to a company that can help you create and REGISTER a domain name, or even an entire site. The domain name is the blurb you see in front of the .com, .net., .org, and so on, on a web address. Imagine Godaddy is the DMV of domains. Just as you go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get your license plates, you would need a company like Godaddy to register your domain. No two license plates can be the same, just as no two domains can be the same. If someone else already registered “worldpeace.com”, you won’t be able to register it for yourself. It’s the same with personalized license plates. If someone has already claimed a license plate you wanted, (like “iluvmom”) you’re out of luck.

These days, finding a suitable, original domain name is no easy task. Most straightforward domains ending in “.com” have been taken. I read somewhere that almost every word in the dictionary has been claimed as a “.com” by someone, somewhere. That’s quite astonishing. New businesses have had to revert to registering longer, more complicated domains (like whathappenedtothephone.com), choose domains that end in less common suffixes (such as .ca, .info or .biz), invent new words for their companies, or pay small ransoms to purchase the domain names they want from other companies or “cyber-squatters”. The latter are folks who beat everyone else to the punch, and registered names like realestate.com, or lawyer.com, or inventions.com LONG before anyone thought of it. Some domain names have made people very wealthy. The average price for a domain name these days is around $10,000. Yet some companies have shelled out well over $1 million for a dot com domain. Rumor has it Apple paid $4.5 million for the icloud.com domain.

What does all that have to do with the outage at Godaddy? It’s simple. Back in the internet Gold Rush days, Godaddy shot to fame by offering discount domain registrations, and registrations in bulk. People were buying up 10, 20, even 100 domains at a time, registering everything they could think of as companies popped up overnight to take advantage of the “dot com” phenomenon. Before Godaddy, registering ONE domain could cost an average of $75  a year with a company like Network Solutions. Once Godaddy got into the act, and started lowering prices, domains could be had for $10 a year or less! It was huge. News reports told of vast fortunes made for owning exclusive rights to certain domains. And everyone wanted to get into the act. It was a virtual land grab of the Industrial Era, and much money was made and lost.

Godaddy quickly became a leader in domain registration (as well as other services), and when it came to refering someone to a company for registering a domain, Godaddy seemed the natural choice. With so many domains registered through Godaddy then, an outage would affect millions. And that’s exactly what it did. Sites around the world went off-line – or more accurately, were blinded by the high influx of traffic to the registrar. The system was simply overwhelmed.

How does this happen? It’s really not that hard to do. Think of your website, or any website, as a storefront with one set of doors. If someone decides to disrupt your business, all he or she has to do is send several thousand people to your doorway at once. If you find 3,000 people trying to enter your store at the same time, and you soon discover they have no intention of shopping, this is clearly not good news. In effect, the crowd prevents your real customers from gaining access. No one can get in, or out. Now imagine some hacker enslaving potentially thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of computers around the globe (unbeknownst to the actual owners of such computers), with some spyware. At a given time, this software could suddenly kick in, and start “calling” a pre-determined website (such as Godaddy.com). With that kind of assault, servers are quickly overwhelmed, and they shut down. This is the “denial of service” scenario. Techs then scramble to create a “new door” for traffic, but that can take hours, if not days. It all depends on how sophisticated the attack is. Is it a one time attack, or did this enemy plan it in waves, using different sources each time?

Since Godaddy is one of the largest, if not the largest domain registrar (a service that sells and maintains domain names), taking down its site can make those domain names (and there are millions of them) temporarily inaccessible. Even if the websites behind those domains are hosted elsewhere, and not with Godaddy, a crash of Godaddy’s servers would render the domains “blind” – unable to route internet traffic to the proper hosts. In short, by crashing Godaddy, the attacker removed all the street signs that internet traffic would normally use to find corresponding websites, or email server sites.

Let me state that Godaddy insists it was NOT a denial-of-service attack. They say it was an internal error having to do with their router data tables.

According to Steven J Vaughan-Nichols of ZDNET.com, Godaddy’s Interim CEO Scott Wagner made the following statement:

Yesterday, GoDaddy.com and many of our customers experienced intermittent service outages starting shortly after 10 a.m. PDT. Service was fully restored by 4 p.m. PDT. The service outage was not caused by external influences. It was not a “hack” and it was not a denial of service attack (DDoS). We have determined the service outage was due to a series of internal network events that corrupted router data tables. Once the issues were identified, we took corrective actions to restore services for our customers and GoDaddy.com. We have implemented measures to prevent this from occurring again.

At no time was any customer data at risk or were any of our systems compromised.

Throughout our history, we have provided 99.999% uptime in our DNS infrastructure. This is the level our customers expect from us and the level we expect of ourselves. We have let our customers down and we know it.

There really isn’t much one can do about an outage like this, as a customer. You might have several different email addresses, on different servers and domains, so that you’d still be able to communicate if one of those services were taken down. We reverted to our .mac accounts while our regular domain email was out. Texting is also a very handy tool, as we used that to alert many of our clients of the news regarding the Godaddy outage.

With the most recent turn of events, I am motivated to take Godaddy to task on another issue entirely – that of email reliability when tied in to the Apple Mail client. In a previous post, over two years ago, I indicated how simple it is to create one’s own domain. I stated that having one’s own domain made management of email simple, and perhaps even more secure – and we recommended Godaddy as an economical provider of such services. Sadly, we have to revoke that recommendation. We revoke it not because of the outage we all experienced yesterday, but rather because the quality of their email services has declined dramatically this past year. We discovered it was unreliable. Emails were disappearing from the server for no apparent reason. This happened not only to our accounts, but to client accounts as well. Clients we had helped establish Godaddy email had increasing difficulty with their email accounts – specifically when used with the Apple Mail program. Many, many, MANY calls to tech support later ended in the declaration that the problem “must be an Apple issue. Ask them. ”

Entourage, the Microsoft product packaged with Office 2004, and 2008, seemed to work well with the Godaddy mail servers. But now that Entourage has been discontinued, and is no longer supported on operating systems above 10.6.x, that solution is obsolete. And no, we don’t like Outlook for Mac 2011. With the iOS coming into its own, it’s time to move to the Apple Mail client. (A mail client is a program that manages your incoming, stored, and outgoing email for you. Examples are Apple Mail – the stamp, Entourage, Outlook, Thunderbird and Eudora. Note that some of these are now also obsolete.)

There are many other options available out there for email hosting. (Email hosting means a service that will rent you space on its servers (Big Computers) to house and manage your email. The concept is similar to renting a post office mailbox near you. Examples are Godaddy, Network Solutions, Rackpace, Gmail, etc). Gmail is a free one, but there are many others. In light of our experience this past year then, we recommend shopping around. As we have seen this week, putting all your eggs in one basket (registrar, email host, website host) can be hazardous. While we actually like the value Godaddy offers in domain registration, and even some hosting plans, we are much less fond of their email system. In our experience, it has grown unreliable. Repeated attempts to find solutions with their tech support proved fruitless. One Godaddy rep defended the difficulties we were having by saying “Hey, you get what you pay for”. I kid you NOT.

In our opinion, after many years of working with Godaddy, it was time to move on. Your mileage may vary of course, but we were up for finding Mac-friendlier pastures. We’ve since pulled our email accounts and moved them to another host, and urged our clients to do the same. There are folks who are perfectly happy with Godaddy’s services and value. More power to them. We haven’t lost a single email since we left, nor do we get those pesky SMTP server errors anymore when trying to send out an email. We’ve concluded that the Apple Mail client and Godaddy’s servers aren’t meant to go together, and that’s that. After the move, our email problems evaporated – that is, until yesterday. Our domains are still registered with Godaddy, and the outage brought everything down for us too. Moving registrars will be our next project. We will say that Godaddy did manage to bring things back up relatively quickly yesterday, considering the scale of the problem. For that, we’re grateful.

How to protect yourself from the Onslaught of Phishing Emails and new, dangerous callers

Phishing is attempting to acquire information (and sometimes, indirectly, money) such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.

  • Wikipedia

This is not news.The email arrives from American Express. It warns that they are limiting access to my account, and that in order to protect it, I should log in and update my information. There is just one problem. I don’t have an American Express account. What is different here is the frequency of these phishing attempts, and, a newer tactic involving urgent-sounding phone calls.

Let’s look at two of the strategies these savvy scammers use, one at a time.

First, a more common scenario that you may already have heard about. Chase Bank contacts you via email, stating that in accordance with your alert settings, they’re just letting you know they’ve authorized a charge of $1,174 on your account, for some company you’ve never heard of.

Enter any of the major bank names into these alerts, complete with corresponding logos and formatting, and someone will will fall for it. Seniors are especially at risk. They tend to be less familiar with the online environment, feel less secure about their abilities on the computer, and tend to be more vulnerable in general.

The idea is to make the recipient panic, and immediately click on a “bank” link to update information, verify the charge, and so on. As soon as one clicks on that link, one of three things will happen.

  1. Nothing. The link is not found, or is non-functional (probably taken down by the authorities or internet service provider, because it’s fraudulent).
  2. You’re taken to a very convincing website that looks just like your bank’s, complete with images, formatting, and all the usual marketing / banking blurb. “Click here to unsubscribe” and many other innocuous links, statements and suggestions are strategically scattered on the page, just as they would be on the real website. All you have to do is enter your login information, and the criminal has the keys to your account. Within minutes he could empty it.
  3. By clicking on the link, something active is downloaded onto your computer (perhaps in the background, where you can’t see it). Once on the computer, it can act as a virus, causing all kinds of trouble for your files – or it can implant itself as malware or spyware, tracking what sites you go to, what keys you press for entering sensitive login information, and so on. This information is secretly stored, and then quietly sent to the criminal who sent you the clandestine software to begin with.

 

Unlike the characters depicted in movies like “Wargames”, where some kids were just out to have some fun, these callers are part of organized crime rings. They sometimes employ enterprising tech-savvy teens, doing their best to con you into allowing them into your digital life. In some instances, they’re looking for access to your financial information. In others, they hope to sell you bogus tech support for a problem your computer isn’t really having. For the latter, they usually try cold-calling a list of numbers out of online phone books, customer contact lists from stores that have been hacked, and so on.

It’s an increasingly popular practice, this tech-over-the-phone scam. It started in the UK around 2010. Now it has jumped the pond and is spreading through North America like wildfire. Just the other day, in a fluke of good timing, I was helping a client with her Mac in her home office, when she received a call from a call center in India. (There was a several second delay in the connection, and the caller stated he was in India). She was thrilled that I happened to be there to take the call. She quickly told me someone had been calling for weeks, despite her decline of their numerous offers of “help”. The man on the phone informed me that my client’s computer had been sending many warning messages to their “control center”. According to him, they monitor the internet for “suspicious, and even dangerous, fraudulent activity.” (How ironic, i thought. He monitors himself?)

He asked whether I was near the computer, as he wanted to walk me through what we “had to do to resolve this situation.” His call sounded very urgent, — it seemed our very lives depended on getting to that computer as quickly as possible, so that he could help us avert utter catastrophe, and perhaps diffuse a bomb. (Yawn)

Continuing in his urgent tone, this “tech” on the other end of the phone informed me that we didn’t have to worry, that “there is still time to take care of the problem.”

I said “Really? What operating system do we have on our computer?”

He paused a moment, then said “Windows.”

I answered “Incorrect!” and slammed down the phone.

Had we not known any better, this caller might have talked us into purchasing “tech support” from him to fix our “problem” remotely. The average asking price from these scammers starts at about $170 for the first assessment. But the greater danger is that they may talk you into allowing them access into your computer – a REALLY bad idea. Once they have your credit card information, all bets are off. More worrisome is that if they gain access to your computer, they might retain that access into the future. They would not only possibly see anything you enter on your computer from that point forward (including login information, bank passwords, etc), but also enslave your computer to act as a drone or robot of sorts, to conduct cyber-attacks on commercial websites.

For the record, Microsoft states they don’t offer any “monitoring service” for Windows machines. They will not call you to inform you that something devious is happening with your computer. It’s a scare tactic meant to, at best, pry dollars from your wallet.  The Mac, meanwhile, is generally impervious to the kind of malware/spyware that can wreak havoc on Windows machines. While technically it is feasible, and people are always claiming that Macs too are susceptible to viruses and spyware, I have yet to see anything bring down a Mac that is a true virus. We still recommend you have anti-virus protection, because that day – the day that a virus does bring down a Mac, will certainly come.

Plenty of con men are prepared to tell you anything to get you to give them your personal information, especially your credit card information, over the phone. Obviously you won’t want to allow that. (The infuriating thing is how many innocent, less tech-savvy consumers are duped by this setup).

So that you might prepare yourself for receiving such a call (they are usually generated randomly, but after first contact, they will continue calling), here are some tips:

  1. Never give credit card information out over the phone, if someone calls YOU to ask for it, or confirm it. Banks would never do that. Stores don’t do that (generally), unless you’ve recently placed an order that needs clarification, or the call is a follow-up call to one you made to the same party earlier. Banks will NEVER call you to verify card information. It’s their account! Why would they not have your info?
  2. Never buy into emergency computer help, internet help, or network help if someone calls you to take care of an “urgent matter with your computer”. They don’t know what computer you have. They’re bluffing. Since Windows machines still dominate the market, it’s more likely that they will get the operating system right if they say “Windows”. Keep in mind that these criminals are diligent and disciplined. They take notes. Our client mentioned that the same people have called her three or four times already. Each time they get another nugget of information, and they’ll use that to con you several weeks from now. For example, today the caller learned that my client doesn’t have a Windows machine. The next time he (or an associate of his) calls, he’ll try saying “Mac” is the operating system on her computer, and he’ll be right. If the caller gets the answer right, you may find him credible. Do not. Avoid giving out any information about your computer, email address or surf habits. The best course of action is to hang up.
  3. The “do not call list” means nothing to these scammers. Don’t waste your time complaining to the caller that you are on some “do not call” list. He or she is just thrilled to have you on the phone. And you don’t have to be polite. They are trying to relieve you of the contents of your wallet. There is no obligation to be polite to a scam artist. Hang up.
  4. Statistically, customers who use online banking are less likely to fall prey to identity theft, online hacking, or fraudulent charges against their accounts. That’s because tech-savvy customers have banking apps, and investment apps that they use to keep a close eye on their accounts. If you set up electronic accounts for banking, bill payment, and utilities, you’ll be able to keep a close eye on all of your accounts easily. Use passwords that are very secure, employing a combination of letters, symbols and numbers. (“Red67enchilada!” is a great password. “Password123” is not.)
  5. Do not access financial accounts online unless you are on your own computer. Never log in to a banking site on a public, internet cafe, or cruise line computer. You may forget to log out, or some undesirable may have installed a keystroke logger. That means he can return to that public machine and pull anything you’ve typed on it. If and when you’re using a computer that isn’t yours, assume your keystrokes are being recorded by strangers. Use caution.
  6. Make sure your banking passwords are completely different from any other passwords you use for anything else. DO NOT make your banking password the same as your email password, or your facebook password, or your wireless network password. That’s much to easy for a crook to figure out.
  7. Do log in to your financial sites frequently, so that you can track any suspicious transactions, or banking errors. If you find an error or something suspicious, contact your financial institution immediately. Keep in mind you will have to run the gauntlet of security verification when you speak to the bank. They are, after all, trying to protect your account.

 

And finally, a note about third world (or really any) call centers. The internet has developed into a fabulous resource that reaches almost every corner of the world. There was always talk of the potential of the internet ten, fifteen years ago, but who knew it would become what it is today? The world really is at our fingertips, and the availability of opportunities, especially for less developed areas, has exploded.

India, for example, has blossomed with new technologies, and enjoys great success with strong growth of many legitimate businesses. To everyone’s dismay, however, there are “bad apples” in every industry. I’ve pointed out that the scammers were calling from India because they’ve stated as much in the calls, and spoke with heavy Indian accents. But really, scammers can come from anywhere. In this case, if calling from outside of the country, they are beyond the grasp of  U.S. law enforcement.

We’ve had many successful interactions with legitimate call centers around the world, who have been very helpful, even invaluable in getting issues resolved with hardware and software warranties. Outsourcing support calls can be cheaper for manufacturers, and may be necessary to stay competitive. We get that. The issue here is with the scammers, not legitimate call centers.

It would also appear that some industries are slowly returning to North America to open call centers here. In recent years, the backlash from consumers who were having difficulty understanding the accents of outsourced personnel, made it clear that perhaps companies were saving money in the wrong place. Image is everything, and comprehension is key.

Sound the alarm to your friends and family. Scammers are working overtime to take advantage of the unsuspecting public, and are getting very good at it. The next time someone at home gets “the call” for your computer, you’ll know exactly what to do.

As for feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of the technology, all I can tell you is that con men have existed since the beginning of time. The world is not a more dangerous place today because of the technology. If anything, thanks to our ability as consumers to check our accounts from anywhere our smartphones can connect, technology has made our accounts safer, and many of us smarter. Thanks to email and social media, we can now alert each other within seconds of learning of new threats.

It really is a great time to be alive.

If this is your first visit to our site, you may also want to look for “Hacked AOL Address Books and forwarded chain emails – the latest threat to your security.” In it I describe other scams you’ll want to be aware of.

Making the Case for Redundant Backups – A Really Good Idea

It’s that time again. Time to talk about your backup. You would think the topic is like discussing a trip to the dentist for a checkup. We all know it’s a good idea, but somehow, for some of us, we never quite get around to it. The backup situation for most of us in the Mac community has improved greatly over the last five years. Time machine, the program on every new Mac that facilitates the automatization of your backup routine, requires only that you attach an external drive to your minty-fresh, new Mac when you first set it up.

But there is a catch. You have to actually attach an external drive, preferably as new and at least as large (in capacity) as the drive within your Mac. And, unfortunately, there is another catch. Just because you have Time Machine all nicely set up with an external drive, sitting right next to your Mac, does not mean your data is safe. It requires that you periodically check the status of that backup. Was it disconnected by accident when you last moved that stack of folders on your desk? Did someone unplug it? Did you turn it off? Did you remember to turn it back on? Or is it just full, and hasn’t backed up since last October? You don’t want to find out in December, after your computer dies, that the backup stopped working a year and a half ago.

Some of you may be relying on online backup systems, like iCloud, Mozy, Carbonite, and many more. Not to slight those services, but they too are not impervious to trouble. There is a reason they have you click through lengthy pages of legalese (a service contract) before you can start uploading your precious data. They do not accept responsibility for you data. Period. Indeed, they cannot. The liability would be insane. And, as we have seen, online backups, such as that promised by iCloud, are not fool-proof. (See the previous article, “Cloudburst”).

The security of external drives is as good as the security of their location – whether it’s your home office or your office in some commercial building somewhere. Some punk may crawl in through your kitchen window and steal not only your computer, but also your backup drive. Yes, it’s true. Real vermin will take your backup drive. It’s the equivalent of asking you for your money at gunpoint, taking your wallet, and then shooting you anyway. It has always puzzled me why backup drives are stolen. It’s not as if they’re worth much on the street, unless you’re store some seriously important data, and the data was the real target. Perhaps the thief plans to backup his own data. Bastard. The thief knows how important backups are, but you don’t?

Usually it’s those pictures of our kids growing up that we care about most. Adults break down in tears at a theft, not because their computers were stolen, but because of the data (pictures, memories, even memoirs) that were lost too. Hardware can always be replaced, but those pictures, they’re gone. Unless they’re of some hot celebrity, the drives will end up in some dumpster somewhere, or erased and re-used by someone who scored it in a garage sale. (There is a special place in hell for those who take backup drives).

Lest you lose your data, here are a few relatively easy steps to take so that you may sleep better at night.

First, realize that your house may be hit next. Maybe not this week, or next month, but break-ins are on the rise. Police recently told one of our clients how surprised they were that the thieves took the computers from her home. They don’t usually take computers, the detective said. Apparently Macs are the exception. Apple hardware is very desirable. That client went for a walk for thirty-seven minutes. When she returned, her iMacs and laptop were gone. Thankfully, the backup drives happened to be hidden, and were left behind. Thirty-seven minutes, in broad daylight. It can happen to you.

How to protect your hardware and your data

Download and install lojack for laptops onto not only your laptop, but also your desktop computers. The software doesn’t really care whether it’s a laptop or not. And it will help the authorities track down your computer.

Most criminals aren’t too swift. If they were, they’d probably have a real job. Just watch a reality cop show, and see what they have to deal with. Chances are good that they wouldn’t know whether you have tracking software installed on your computer or not, nor would they have a clue on whether it can be thwarted. There is hope for recovery of that stolen item.

Lojack for laptops runs about $35 per year. At the moment they offer a “back to school special”. See their website for details. Note that it’s an annual fee, and you need to renew it every year. They offer discounted rates if you buy several years in advance. Whether that’s a worthwhile investment is up to you. (Some lucky folks buy new hardware every year). For students, lojack really is a must on laptops. The number one place laptops are stolen is airports. The number two? School campuses.

After you install LoJack, make sure you print out a security certificate, available on their website. Lots of instructions are available on their website. For more details on this software, see our review of it in a separate article. For the record, we do not have an endorsement agreement of any kind with Absolute Software, the maker of Lojack. We don’t even get a discount, but would still not live without it.

Find the receipt for your hardware. If you can’t find the receipts, contact the store. Chances are good they can do a reprint for you, or email you a copy (Macmall and Apple both do this). Whatever happens, go to the Apple at the top left of your screen, then click on “About this Mac”, then click on “More info” . You’ll find the serial number listed here. Make a note of it, take a screen shot, print it out. Save that somewhere so you can have a record if it’s stolen.

If you’re unlucky enough to have your stuff swiped from your home or office, make sure you report it, with your serial numbers, to the police. They may recover it. Without a serial number though, your chances of recovery are virtually nil. (I mention this serial number thing in case you don’t go the lo-jack route). Surprisingly, there are folks out there who don’t bother reporting thefts. They assume it’s a waste of time. I can tell you from personal experience that the police do often recover stolen goods, and make every effort to return them to the rightful owner. Finding the owner helps them prosecute their case against the thief.

 

 Set up time machine to an external drive, TWICE. If you’ve already done so, congratulations. A     surprising percentage of Mac users do not. Once the time machine backup has completed, unmount and disconnect that backup drive, and attach a NEW one, which will serve as your redundant, off-site backup. Why two? Because, if your computer and backup drive are even stolen, you’ll be relieved to know that you have a SECOND backup drive stashed somewhere. If your data is important to you, you’ll want to rotate those backups every week, or at least once a month. It depends on how active you are on your computer. Do you take many pics every week? Or do you only download pics when you have an event, like a holiday, birthday or wedding?

 

Once you have that redundant drive, think of a safe place to stash it. Ideally, you want that place to be somewhere OTHER than your home or office. The point is to avoid catastrophe. Here in Southern California, we live in earthquake country. What if, God forbid, your home is wiped out? Having a scan of all your important paper work (insurance, id, passports, credit card accounts, bank accounts, titles to vehicles, etc) would come in pretty handy.

 

Some folks go beyond just one redundant drive, and stash a second drive somewhere else in the home, AND a third backup drive off-site, at a friend’s house, mom’s house, the office or even a safe deposit box at the local bank. You will best know what your comfort level is.
A word of caution though. If you do scan critical, sensitive information and store it on a hard drive, you will want to encrypt that information. (See our video clip of how to create a secure disk image in the how-to video section of this site.)

While this sounds like an awful lot of hassle to protect the data on your computer, I’m afraid it’s up to you to stay on top of it. For some of you, the computer is just an internet portal. You don’t store much on your computer, and prefer printed, hard-cover photo albums to anything digital. For most of us though, computers and the files within them have become an integral part of our lives – or better put, a documentation of our lives. Those files offer proof of who we are, and for some, validation of our dreams.

When you think about it, for a few hundred dollars, and a simple routine at least once every week or every month, you can protect all of that data so easily. Why not get to it today?

Here is a list of what we recommend:

Lojack for laptops:  http://www.absolute.com/lojackforlaptops/

Easy setup, good follow-thru. A great tool against that punk that’s eyeing your hardware.

G-Technologies G-Drives: External backup drives that fit in nicely with iMac design.

La Cie External Rugged Drives:  Slightly less expensive, but adequate, these drives can take a beating. Make sure you use the firewire 800 connection, and not the USB. USB connection has proven to be a bit dodgy in our tests.

With Time machine built in to your system, all you have to do is attach an external drive, and follow the prompts. (See our “How to set up Time Machine” video clip in the How-to section of this site).

Once you have your data backed up, you’ll be prepared for the worst. May your data stay safe, your computers not crash, and the criminals never figure out how to get into your home.