Buying a new PC

April 12, 2018

We are frequently asked what features and specifications to look for when purchasing a new PC. You can save a lot of time and effort by letting us get your new computer for you. But if you prefer to get your own, here is some information to help you.

In order to determine what features you need in a computer, it’s important to classify yourself into the appropriate category of user. Please read the descriptions of the following three categories of users and decide which one best describes you. Once you know that, read the rest of the article to find out what features you need.

Casual User

This user reads e-mail, surfs the web, edit’s documents and other similar tasks only. May play low graphics games like solitaire. Typically only has 1 or 2 applications going at the same time. Casual user would also include pre-teen/early teen children.

Power User/Business User

This user does everything the casual user does. In addition, this user does occasional editing of photos, graphics, or video. May play games that are somewhat graphics intensive but not action oriented. May have 2-4 applications going at the same time. This category would include students in the final years of high school or college students.

Gamer/High-End Business

This user does everything the power user does. In addition, this user may play games that are graphics intensive (First Person Shooters, etc.). User may perform tasks like CAD drawing. This user may do a lot of graphics or photo editing. This user may also frequently edit video. Once you have determined which category you fall in, you can then determine what features you should look for in a PC.

Now that you have categorized yourself, here are our recommendations.

PROCESSOR

The processor, also known as the CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the brain of your computer.

Casual Users don’t need too much processor power. Even so, we don’t recommend low end processors. Get an Intel core i3 processor. Get one that has a speed of at least 2 GHz. For AMD, get a Ryzen 3.

Power/Business Users need a fairly beefy processor, but you don’t need the latest and greatest. An Intel Core i3 would be OK but an i5 or i7 would be better. Get one with a speed of 3.0 GHz or faster. An AMD Ryzen 5 or 7 would be fine. As with Intel, 3.0 GHz or faster.

Gamers/High-End Business Users will want an intel core I7. Get one with a speed of 3.5 GHz or faster. Although we recommend you get the I7, if money is tight a core I5 will be fine. Get the fastest speed and the most cores you can afford. An AMD Ryzen 7 will be good as well. A speed of 3.5 GHz or better.

WINDOWS

There are several different editions of Windows 10. However, if we eliminate the ones for big companies and for education, we are left with two editions. The Home edition and the Pro edition. Their are two main differences between the Home and Pro versions. The Pro version can join a company’s domain and the Pro version has Bitlocker. Bitlocker is a security feature that allows you to encrypt files. In a nutshell, everyone should get the Home version unless the computer will be used in a business environment with a server or if you need Bitlocker.

64 bit versus 32 bit. In general, we recommend the 64 bit version, but some business users will need the 32 bit version if they have old outdated software or devices that won’t work on 64 bit. 32 bit systems are getting harder and harder to find.

SYSTEM MEMORY

There are basically two types of memory in a computer. System memory (often referred to as RAM) and hard drive memory. Hard drive space is the amount of space you have to store programs and files. System memory is the computer’s internal work space.

Imagine that the computer’s processor is a person who does the work. Imagine that this person has a desk to work on and that the desk represents system memory. All work must be performed on this desk. If the desk is too small, then the person must move things he’s not working on off the desk and move things he wants to work on to the desk in order to work on them. If the person is working on several things at once, they may spend more time shifting things on and off the desk than they do actually working on things. This is why system memory is so important to the performance of your computer. Even if you typically only run one or two programs at a time, you still need a good amount of memory because even if you are doing nothing, there are still a lot of programs running on your system in the background. Things like Anti-Virus, Anti-spyware, Firewall, Windows internal processes, and the like.

Casual Users should have 4GB or more system memory.
Power/Business Users should have 8GB or more system memory.
Gamers/High-End Business Users should have 16 GB or more. If a computer will be used for CAD or video processing, you’ll probably want more.

NOTE: if you are getting the 32 bit version of Windows, don’t get a system with more than 4GB of system memory. The 32 bit version of Windows cannot address more than 4 GB of memory so it would be a waste of money unless you are planning to upgrade to the 64 bit version in the future.

VIDEO/GRAPHICS

The video functionality of your computer is the part of the computer that processes graphics and displays information on the monitor. Some computers have the video functionality built-in to the motherboard or built-in to the CPU. This usually means that video processing will take up processing time on the main processor and also will take up system memory. You can get better performance, in general, out of your computer, and better graphics, if you have a video card that is not part of the motherboard or processor. This is called a distinct video card.

Most higher end desktops come with video cards or you can purchase one and add it to your system. Laptops, however, are a different story. You can find laptops with distinct video cards, but they are expensive. In addition, you can’t easily add a video card to a laptop.

The video card provides a dedicated processor for processing graphics along with dedicated memory, thus taking a huge load off of the processor and memory on the motherboard. Note that just because and computer says it has a XXX GB video card, doesn’t mean that the video card itself has that much memory on it. Some video cards steal system memory away from the computer and use that. Make sure you get a video card with DEDICATED memory, not shared.

Casual Users should not worry about what video card is in their system. Integrated video is fine.
Power/Business Users can usually get away with using integrated video unless they work with a lot of pictures, videos, graphics, or CAD or work at a fast pace. In that case, a distinct video card will make a big difference. You you don’t need an expensive one. Model names of video cards don’t follow a nice linear path, so I can’t say get version x and higher. The easiest way to rate a video card is by how much it costs, how much memory it has on it, and what type of memory it has on it. A video card that costs $100 or more with at least 1GB or better of memory will be good.
Gamers/High-End Business Users should get a distinct video card without question. You can spend about as much as you want on a video card. Up to $1000 if you want to be on the bleeding edge of technology. But we recommend going with a card that costs around $200 – $300. Your card should have at least 1GB memory or better on it. The type of memory should be at least GDDR4, GDDR5 preferred. The memory interface should be 128bit or higher. Although you can find laptops that are good for these types of users, they are very expensive. So unless you need/want a laptop, go for a desktop.

HARD DRIVE SIZE AND SPEED

These days, there are two types of hard drives. There’s the traditional mechanical hard drive, and then theres the solid state drive (SSD). An SSD will make your system run MUCH FASTER. But an SSD is more expensive as a mechanical hard drive and doesn’t hold as much data. Many systems have 2 drives. An SSD for the system drive, and a mechanical hard drive for the data drive.

If you are getting an SSD, don’t get anything smaller than 256 GB. We recommend 500 GB. Make sure that’s going to be enough storage space for you. On a desktop you can have a second internal hard drive. You can also use an external hard drive on either a desktop or laptop as a second drive for more storage. It’s difficult to find desktops in stores that have SSD’s. You’ll probably have to have us upgrade your desktop. You can buy laptops with SSD’s. However, they are usually small and overpriced. We can upgrade almost any laptop to an SSD.

In terms of mechanical hard drives, make sure you get one that is 7200 RPM. This can be difficult on a laptop as many of them are 5400 RPM.

Sizes of hard drives vary.

Casual Users should get the smallest sized mechanical hard drive available.
Power/Business Users should get a mechanical hard drive with at 1TB of storage space. If you are going to be storing a lot of videos on your computer, get a 2TB sized hard drive or bigger. If you are impatient with your computer, consider an SSD if it’s in the budget.
On a laptop, a 5400 RPM drive will be OK but get a 7200 RPM drive if you can find it. Better yet, get an SSD if you don’t need a huge amount of storage space.
Gamers/High-End Business Users should get a 500 GB SSD for the system drive and a second mechanical hard drive for data. The mechanical hard drive should be 7200 RPM. At least 1TB unless you will be storing a lot of video or doing a lot of gaming, then get a 2TB or larger drive. If you are considering a dual drive or RAID configuration, we recommend you consult with Cyber Tek Computer Pros before making a purchase. RAID is too complicated to go into in this article.

BRAND, WARRANTIES, SUPPORT

Most brands are OK. If you look for the features and specifications we have outlined, you should generally end up with a decent computer. The question then becomes about the quality of the system, how long it will last, the cost of repairing it, how easy it is to find parts, and how the support is.

In terms of quality, the old adage that says, “You get what you pay for” is generally true. The cheaper brands like EMachines and Toshiba tend to have more problems and don’t last as long. No brand is perfect. In general, most companies provide a 1 year warranty on hardware. Many of them say it is onsite service as well. Many people pay extra for onsite service warranties thinking that if there a problem, someone will show up and take care of them. But it doesn’t always work that way. For example, if the hard drive on your 2 month old PC dies and your system won’t boot, the onsite service technician will come to your home, remove the old hard drive, install a new one, install Windows, and leave. That sounds nice until you realize that all of your data is gone and you are left to reinstall a lot of programs on your system. That is certainly not how Cyber Tek Computer Pros does business. In this example, we would get your data off of your old hard drive, install the new hard drive, and load all of your data and programs onto the new hard drive. We would also try and configure it as closely as we can to how it was before. Also, when you call technical support for any of these big computer companies, you are usually going to get someone in a foreign country that may be difficult to understand. For these reasons, we do not recommend upgrading your warranty. We also don’t recommend store warranties either. They aren’t worth it.

Our favorite brands of computers (desktops, All-In-One’s (AIO), and laptops) are Dell and ASUS. Dell is our favorite. Good computers and good prices and it’s easy to get parts for them.

We recommend going with a big name brand because it’s difficult and expensive to find parts for the smaller brands. For example, an Alienware laptop is a good, high performance laptop. If it breaks, trying to find parts for it is difficult and expensive. You pretty much have to get Alienware to fix it, which is a slow process and expensive. That doesn’t apply to desktops. Their parts are more standardized.

STORES

What store you buy your computer at doesn’t really matter as long as you are buying one of the major brands of computers. Just look for the lowest price with the specs you want. In the Austin, Texas area, good places to look include Best Buy and Fry’s Electronics. Other places include Office Max, Office Depot, Walmart, Costco, and Sam’s Club. Reminder: We do not recommend purchasing extended warranties or store warranties on computers. You can purchase from these stores websites as well. You can also purchase directly from the manufacturer on their website. You would think that would be cheaper, but it’s not. The advantage, however, is that you can custom configure your computer. In terms of online only stores, some good ones are newegg.com, amazon.com, and tigerdirect.com.

ALL IN ONE (AIO) COMPUTERS

An All In One (AIO) computer is a large screen that has the computer built into the monitor. They are great for reducing the number of wires and saving space on your desk. But, like laptops, they are limited in performance, options, and upgrade-ability. In addition to the options explored above, the other options for an AIO include screen size and touchscreen. Get the screen size you that will fit on your desk. If your eyesight isn’t the best, the bigger the screen, the easier it will be to read what’s on the screen.

In terms of touchscreen, lots of people think it’s cool and want it on their computers but then don’t use it. It all depends on how you use a computer and what you will be doing on the computer. On an AIO, you probably won’t use it.

NOTBOOKS/LAPTOPS/NETBOOKS/ULTRABOOKS

Notebook or laptop computers are a special case. Laptops lag desktops in technology because of size and heat requirements. If you don’t need portability, don’t get a laptop. They are more expensive to purchase, not as up-gradable, more expensive to upgrade (if they can even be upgraded), and more expensive to repair. And they don’t have the performance that desktops can have. If you do need a laptop, then things to consider in addition to what we have covered are battery life, screen size and shape, size, and weight. In this instance, we are not breaking this down based on user category.

Here are our recommendations:

Laptop Type
These days there are several different types of laptops. Here is a list of the most popular types and a description of each.

  1. Standard Laptop
    This is the laptop you know and love. usually has a 15″ to 16″ screen. It has a hinge and opens up for you to use it and you can close it when you are carrying it around.
  2. Ultralight
    This is basically a standard laptop, but much smaller, thinner, and lighter. They usually cost more than standard laptops. They are great for carrying around but can be limited in performance and features. For example, they don’t have CD/DVD drives. They don’t have numeric keypads. They often don’t have wired internet and can only do wireless. They don’t have a lot of USB ports either.
  3. 2-in-1
    This is a laptop where the monitor can be folded or rotated around so that it folds down on the keyboard with the screen out so you can use it like a tablet. It’s going to be much bigger and heavier than a tablet. These all have touchscreens.
  4. 2-in-1 detachable
    This is kind of an odd animal, but it really works. It’s like a tablet with a keyboard. You can detach the keyboard and use it as a tablet, or attach the keyboard and use it like a laptop.

Battery Life
If you are going to be using it on the go, get a laptop with a long battery life. There is nothing more frustrating that paying a lot of money for a laptop you can use on the go, and then not being able to use it because the battery is dead. Some laptops can be upgraded to a longer life battery.

Screen Size
Get the biggest screen you can afford as long as the size of the laptop that goes with it is not too big or too heavy for you to carry around. Remember that the bigger the screen size, the bigger and heavier the laptop will be. Also remember that the smaller the screen, the lighter and smaller the laptop is, but it’s harder to read what’s on the screen because everything is smaller. Those of us who don’t have the best vision will want bigger screens and will want to avoid the smaller screens. Also be aware that the smaller laptops don’t have numeric keypads on the keyboard. If you enter a lot of numbers, that could be an issue.

When you are not traveling, you can connect an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse to your laptop and then when traveling use the smaller screen on the laptop itself. Hooking up an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse is easier with a desk dock, but not required.

Size and Weight
Size matters in this case. If you carry it around a lot or for long distances, the smaller and lighter it is, the better. A 9 pound laptop doesn’t sound like it would be that heavy to lug around, but when you add in the AC adapter and other accessories, it can get pretty heavy. Even if you just carry the laptop without the AC adapter or other accessories, 9 pounds get’s pretty heavy after a while. Get the smallest and lightest laptop you can afford with the screen size you want. In general, the smaller and lighter the laptop, the more expensive they are. But as we mentioned above, make sure your eyesight is good enough for a smaller screen.

Carry Cases
Be careful on the prices of carry cases. If you purchase a case at the same time as your laptop there is often a huge markup. You can always purchase a generic carry case later at a store like Best Buy or Frys or at an online retailer. Make sure you get a carry case that your laptop will fit in. In general it goes by screen size. The specifications for a case will tell you it can handle laptops up to a certain screen size. Most laptops with 15″ or smaller screen will fit in most any laptop case. However, laptops with 17″ or bigger screens won’t. It’s a good idea to get a carry case that doesn’t look like a laptop carry case, for security reasons. One of our favorites are the back-pack type carry cases. These look less professional in a business environment, but the great thing is they don’t look like laptop bags and are, therefore, less likely to get stolen at the airport or hotel.

Touchscreen
Touchscreen is a cool feature, but many people don’t use it. If you have a 2-in-1 or 2-in-1 detachable computer, you’ll have touchscreen. For a standard laptop or ultralight, most people don’t use the touchscreen capability with the possible exception of playing games like candy crush.

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Recent Windows Updates Cause Big Problems

March 26, 2018

Recently there were two Windows Updates that caused major problems.

One of them caused the mouse and/or keyboard to stop working making the computer unusable. This bad update was easy to address if we already had our remote support software on the computer. All we had to do was remote in and remove the bad update. If we didn’t have our remote support software on the computer, it was much more complicated, but fixable.

The other bad update was much worse. It rendered the computer unbootable. There’s no easy fix for this at this time. If this happened, we had to back up your data, wipe it, re-install Windows, and basically rebuild the computer from scratch.

Despite these recent update issues, it’s still important to apply all security updates to Windows. We recommend holding off at least a week, before installing an update, just to be safe. Of course, this makes maintaining your Windows computer more complicated. When your computer wants to install updates, you have to look at the list and then Google each one to see how long it’s been since it was released and to make sure nobody is having trouble with it. Or you can just roll the dice.

This is one of the nice things about our Security And Maintenance (SAM) plan. Our software controls when Windows updates are installed. We review all updates to make sure they are safe. We don’t allow an update to be installed to a computer on our SAM plan until it’s been out at least a week and there are no problems reported. Consequently, not one computer on our SAM plan got either of these bad updates.

If you are interested in putting one or more computers on our SAM plan, you can read more information about it on our website by clicking here.

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Is my email address on the dark web?

March 22, 2018

You may have seen advertisements or gotten emails from companies like Experian are offering a free dark web scan to see if your email address is on the dark web. We would like to educate you on what this really means.

The name dark web sounds ominous. Like using the name “dark one” to refer to Satan, the name dark web conjures up images of fire and evil. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The dark web is much like the web you know. The only difference is that it is only accessible using special software that allows users and website operators to remain anonymous or untraceable.

Now that we understand what the dark web is, what are the chances that your email address is on the dark web? Actually, very good. The vast majority of people’s email address is on the dark web. Only people who have done very little on the web are not there. Chances are very good that your email address is on the dark web. Pretty much all of my email addresses are on the dark web.

How did your email address get on the dark web? Hackers hack servers and steal information and then sell it on the dark web. This type of information is purchased by spammers and identity thieves. Your information can get onto the dark web in other ways too, but that’s the primary way. If you ever watch or read the news, you’ve heard about website breaches. Yahoo, Dropbox, Adobe, LinkedIn, Equifax, Uber, AOL, Ameritrade, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Citigroup, Compass Bank, eBay, Facebook, Gmail, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, NASDAQ, Neiman Marcus, Texas Attorney General, Scottrade, SnapChat, Sony, Starbucks, Starwood Hotels, TJ Maxx, Twitter, U.S. Army, Walmart, Verizon, and Wendy’s just to name a few better-known websites and companies. In reading this list, you can see why most people’s email address is on the dark web. This is but a tiny sampling. The list is huge. And that’s just the ones we know about. Many companies keep it a secret when they get hacked.

You are probably asking, “If my email address is on the dark web, what does that mean for me?”.
If your email address is on the dark web, you are going to receive more spam than an email address that is not on the dark web. In addition, it’s more likely that a hacker is going to try and hack your email account. That’s pretty much it. Companies like Experian are using the scary phrase “Dark Web” to try and scare you into purchasing their identity theft protection. Don’t fall for it. It’s nothing more than a ploy to try and scare you into signing up for their services.

Our advice? Don’t bother with these dark web scans. Assume your email address is on the dark web (because it probably is) and follow the guidelines below to protect yourself.

  1. Make sure you have a good, complex password.
    For our recommended password guidelines: Click here to read our password article on our website.
  2. Turn on 2-step verification for your email account.
    For more information about this, click here to check out step three in this article on our website.
  3. Keep your computer safe and secure by doing the following:
    1. Keep Windows up-to-date
    2. Use one of our recommended security products (or Sign up for our SAM plan).
    3. Don’t let your security software expire or get out-of-date.
    4. Keep security sensitive programs updated. These include Java, Flash, Reader, Skype, and many more.
  4. Be careful what you open and what you click on.
    When in doubt, shoot us an email and ask us. If you get an email you are suspicious of, forward it to us and ask us to check it.
  5. Don’t fall for scams. The internet is chock full of scams and scammers will be calling you, if they haven’t already. When you search for a website or phone number on the web, you’ll probably get several fake ones at the top before finding the real one.

We sincerely hope this article has been helpful to you. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

 

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What’s the Best Free Email Service?

March 1, 2018

We are often asked which of the free email services is the best one.

Before we answer this question, I want to remind you that we do not recommend using the email account given to you by your Internet Service Provider. These services usually aren’t very good and if you move or change service providers, you have to change email accounts and can’t set up automatic forwarding.

Defining the best free email service is a little tricky since the word “best” is a subjective term.
Here are some of the things to consider when selecting an email provider:

  • Reliability
  • Security (from hackers)
  • Privacy
  • Speed
  • Features
  • Spam filtering
  • Integration
  • Ease of Use (if using webmail)
  • Storage

While I would think Reliability and Security are important to everyone, the rest of the features may vary in how important they are to a particular person or organization. With that in mind, here are our recommendations.

Let me first start by saying that we do not recommend using AOL Mail or Yahoo Mail. We do not recommend AOL Mail because it is missing some key features. You can’t even set up automatic forwarding. And we don’t recommend Yahoo Mail because of all of the email services, it’s the one that is always getting hacked. In addition, they frequently change their web mail interface upsetting many people.

There is one free email service that scores very well in all of the above categories (except one). It is the most popular free email service in the world for that reason. It’s Gmail (gmail.com). For most people, Gmail will be the best option for a personal email account. Gmail is also good for organizations. In fact, Gmail is so good, it would be the one and only recommendation if it weren’t for one issue. The one drawback to Gmail is the concern about privacy. Google used to scan your emails for the purpose of showing you targeted advertisements. They claim they have stopped this practice but many people do not trust them.

If privacy is a big concern for you, then you may not want to go with Gmail. For those concerned about privacy we recommend Proton Mail (protonmail.com). You’ll be somewhat restricted in that you can only access ProtonMail via their webmail or one of their apps to access your email. That makes sense because that’s the only way they can provide that level of privacy. But if privacy is important to you, it’s worth it.

Here’s some information on some other major Email providers you may be interested in.

Outlook.com (Hotmail.com, live.com, msn.com).
This is a Microsoft service. In addition to privacy concerns, there have been a lot of problems with this service in the past. Especially if you don’t use a Microsoft product to access your email. In addition, Microsoft, as it often does, has removed useful features from it’s Email service, just like it has from Windows.

iCloud Mail
This service is from Apple. It’s not bad, but it’s missing some important features and doesn’t integrate well with other accounts.

There are a huge number of additional free email providers. Too many to mention. In this article we have focused on the most popular free email services.

If you are willing to pay a small annual fee, you can get an email service that is, in many ways, better than any of the free services. For example, our email service is only $25/year. With our service you get top notch security, the best Spam filtering, very good privacy, and unlimited storage.

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Tired of Email problems?

February 14, 2018

Are you tired of having your email hacked?
Are you tired of getting lots of spam?
Are you tired of having someone sending spam making it look like you sent it?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, read on!

Email accounts through internet service providers like Spectrum and AT&T are included with your service, but they have problems. They aren’t very secure, they don’t do a good job of blocking spam, and if you change internet service providers, you have to change your email address.

Free email accounts through places like Gmail, Yahoo, and Microsoft (Hotmail.com, live.com, msn.com) have some of the same problems. They aren’t secure and you get lots of spam. In addition, these accounts are free so there’s no support for them. If you have a problem, there’s nobody you can call to get help.

We here at Cyber Tek Computer Pros have been enjoying our own email for years. We don’t get much spam. Our email accounts have never been hacked. And if anyone tries to impersonate us in an email, most email servers will block their attempt. Our email is so good we though, maybe some of our customers would like to enjoy it. So we have created our own email service, tornadomail.net.

For just $25/year (that’s a year, not a month) you can have an email account with our new email service, tornadomail.net. With our new email service, you won’t get very much spam (nobody can guarantee no spam). Your email account is highly unlikely to be hacked (Nobody can guarantee an account won’t be hacked). And thanks to our security measures, spammers can’t easily impersonate your email (Nobody can prevent it, but we make it highly unlikely).

If you are interested in an email account that works and doesn’t have all of the problems that most email accounts have, this service is for you!

If you want to sign up or have any questions please contact us.

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Meldown & Spectre CPU Vulnerabilities

January 12, 2018

You may have heard on the news about vulnerabilities in Intel, ARM (Apple), and AMD processors that lets a hacker access your system. You may not be aware that CPU makers knew about this problem for 7 months before someone discovered it and told the world. But I digress. Here’s what you need to know

This affects any computer (desktop, AIO, laptop), tablet or phone that has an Intel, AMD, or ARM processor in it. That’s pretty much all computers, many tablets, and many phones.

We don’t have all of the answers yet since it’s a developing situation. But based on what we know right now, here’s what you should know and what you should do.

This is a hardware issue. But CPU manufacturers won’t be replacing the CPU’s in everyone’s devices. What they are doing is releasing updates to the operating systems (Windows, MacOS, IOS, Android, Linux, etc.) to help plug the security hole in the CPU. If you heard these fixes can slow down your computer, that’s true. But it’s not a massive performance hit on most computers.

If your computer or tablet is running Windows 7, Windows 8 (or 8.1), or Windows 10, keep running Windows Update over and over and apply all of the important updates (don’t worry about optional updates) until there are no more updates to install.

If you are running Windows XP or Windows Vista, they won’t be updated with the security fix and we highly recommend that you replace these computers with new ones.

For Macs, make sure you are running the High Sierra version of MacOS and that you have all of the latest updates. If you have an older Mac that won’t update to High Sierra, consider replacing it with a newer model. To update your Mac, click on the App Store and go into the updates tab.

For IOS devices (iPhones, iPads), make sure you update these to IOS 11. Again, if you have an older device that won’t update to IOS 11, consider replacing it with a newer device. To update your IOS device, make sure your device is connected to Wi-Fi and plugged into a charger. Go to settings, General, Software update. You can also update by connecting your device to your computer and updating through iTunes.

For Android devices (phones and tablets), go into settings, about phone and it should tell you what kind of processor you have. If it says intel, AMD, or ARM, then you’ll want to update to the latest version of Android, is possible. If it doesn’t have Intel, AMD, or ARM, then your safe.

Probably none of you have a ChromeBook, but if you do, it needs to be updated as well.

So, once you get Windows/MacOS/IOS/Android/whatever updated, what else do you need to do? Nothing except all of the standard security precautions we recommend. Check out this article on our website that tells you what we recommend to keep your computer safe.

http://www.ct-cp.com/?p=567

Note, if your computer is covered under our SAM plan, then we have you covered and you don’t have to worry about your computers.

As always, if you have questions or need help with your computers, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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Online Privacy

December 6, 2017

When you go to a website, there is lots of stuff happening in the background that you can’t see. One of the main things going on are cookie activities. A cooking is a small file that a website can save in a special place on your computer. A cookie can have all different kind of information saved in it. Each time you access a website, it uploads that website’s cookie information to the website, and then the website updates it and saves it back to your computer.

Cookies were created to do useful things. When you log in to a website, you can tell it to save your user ID so you don’t have to type it in every time. Its cookies that give you that feature. Some websites save your shopping basket to a cookie. A cookie can save your preferences for a particular website too. There are other good uses for cookies, but I won’t list them all.

Before I go any further, I want to make sure you understand that cookies cannot harm your computer and they cannot steal your personal information. However, at some point, advertising services figured out they could track what you do on the internet so they could then display advertisements that you would likely be more interested in. These are called tracking cookies. The advertisers usually don’t know who you are. You’re just a number.

You might think that when you go to a website, it might save one cookie to your computer. But that’s not the case. The website you are accessing can save multiple cookies to your computer. In addition to that, advertising services who advertise on websites also save cookies to your computer.

I know this is confusing. Let me give you an example that might help make all of this make sense.
Let’s say you go to UsefulWebsite.com. UsefulWebsite.com saves a cookie to your computer. That website also subscribes to an advertising service I’ll call AdServ.  When you go to UsefulWebsite.com, it has slots for advertisements. Those advertisements actually come from AdServ’s website, not from UsefulWebsite.com. And because your computer is accessing AdServ’s website via the advertisement, it can save cookies on your computer as well. This is called a Third Party Cookie.

If hundreds of websites subscribe to AdServ’s service, then every time you go to a website that shows advertisements from AdServ, it uses that same tracking cookie and it can use that information to track what you do on those websites. They’ll know what products you clicked on and they use that information to show advertisements for things you have clicked on. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. It doesn’t really hurt anything. They don’t know who you. Unless…

Here’s where it gets a little scary. Let’s say you are using Internet Explorer to access websites. As you know, Internet Explorer is a Microsoft product. When you use Internet Explorer, Microsoft is saving cookies too and tracking you. Same goes for Google Chrome. And actually, Google is the one company using this type of technology more than anyone. You can login to Google Chrome with your Google ID. If you do, Google knows who you are. Even if you don’t login to Google Chrome, if you use Google Chrome to access Gmail, Google knows who you are. They can track your activities using tracking cookies like any ad service, but Google knows who you are.

Let’s also say you have an Android phone. To make that work, you have to use a Google ID. Now think of all of the information Google can collect about you. And Google knows who you are. And before you say it, Apple does the same thing. Just not as well as Google.

What can you do about all of this?

Whatever browser you use, you can change the settings so that 3rd party cookies are blocked. That will help a little bit.

Most browsers have an option to request that a website not track what you do. This is called a “Do Not Track” request. But it’s just that. A request. They don’t have to honor it. And many don’t.

You can install an Ad-Blocker (uBlock Origin, AdBlock Plus) in your browser (Chrome, Firefox, or Edge. Not Internet Explorer) to block advertisements and their cookies.

These types of things help many of the situations, but not all. If you are really concerned about privacy, here are some things you can do in addition to the things I already mentioned above.

  1. Use an anonymous browser like Epic, Comodo Dragon, or Maxthon.
  2. Use a search engine that doesn’t track you like DuckDuckGo or startpage.com.

There are a lot of plug-ins (add-ons) for Chrome and Firefox that claim to help with privacy. I’ve already mentioned that you can install an ad-blocker add-on to Chrome or Firefox. The problem with most of these add-ons is that they can often interfere with the normal operation of a website. In other words, they can make it where you can’t use some websites. An ad-block add-on can do this as well but if a website isn’t working, you can disable the ad-blocker for that site and fix it.

In case you are wondering, VPN doesn’t change anything with tracking cookies.

As for your phone, not much you can do other than go back to a flip phone.

 

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Windows as a Service

October 18, 2017

With the release of Windows 10 in 2015, Microsoft started using the term “Windows as a service”. You may not have heard that, but us IT professionals hear it all the time from Microsoft. The term itself is not important, but It’s important for everyone who owns or uses a Windows 10 computer to understand what it means for your computer.

In the past, Microsoft tried to release a new version of Windows every 3 years. They waited 6 years from XP to Vista, but adhered to the 3-year release schedule since then until they released Windows 10. Microsoft says Windows 10 is the last named version of Windows. I believe they will drop the 10 at some point and then it will just be Windows. That won’t happen until after Windows 8.1 is dead which is scheduled for January 10th, 2023. At that point, Windows 10 will be the ONLY version of Windows that is being supported by Microsoft.

In the past, Microsoft has used different ways to update Windows. Windows XP had service packs. Windows 7 even had one service pack. Windows 8 was updated to Windows 8.1. But with Windows 10, we have this idea of Windows as a service. In a nutshell, that means they will just keep updating Windows 10 forever.

You may be wondering how you tell the different versions of Windows 10 apart. Each version has a version number. As of October 1st, 2017, the latest version of Windows 10 was version 1703. There have been quite a few updates to that version. Each update is identified by a build number. As of October 16th, the latest build of version 1703 was 15063.674. You can find out what version and build you have by clicking on the start button, type winver and hit enter.

Here’s how Windows as a service works. Microsoft will release bug fixes (Quality updates as they call them) monthly on what is called Patch Tuesday. They’ve been doing this since 2003. It’s the second Tuesday of the month. In addition to the monthly “quality” updates, Microsoft will release “Feature Updates” twice a year. These are the more major updates that change how Windows works. Not as major as going from Windows 7 to Windows 8, but bigger than the monthly updates.

That’s pretty much it. They will continue to fix bugs and patch security holes on a monthly basis like they have been doing and instead of doing major release every 3 years, they will do smaller upgrades twice a year. By the way, one of those semi-annual feature updates was just released on October 17th, 2017.

This aggressive mode of constantly updating Windows is good for security but it’s bad in many other ways. Every time Windows is updated, it seems to break some software or some device driver or something causing headaches for users and IT departments all over the world.

Those of you who subscribe to our Security And Maintenance (SAM) plan are lucky that you don’t have to worry about updates. We take care of it. And we don’t let an update install on your computer until it has been tested and found not to cause any major problems.

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More Viruses for Mac Computers

August 28, 2017

As long as I can remember there has been a myth that Apple computers aren’t susceptible to viruses. It was never that they aren’t susceptible, it was that there weren’t enough of them to warrant hackers going after them.

Windows has been dominating the desktop/laptop market since Windows 95 came out. About 10 years ago, Windows was running on about 92% of all desktops and laptops and only about 6% were Apple. Today, Apple has risen to 20% in the United States and Windows has dropped to 75%. The numbers outside of the U.S. are quite different as Apple computers aren’t as popular outside the U.S.

Now Mac users who bought into the myth that their computers were immune to viruses are finding out they are susceptible. Apple computer viruses are quickly on the rise now. As of July 2017, the number of Apple viruses since July 2016 has increased by 230%!

We here at Cyber Tek Computer Pros can confirm that we are seeing more infected Mac computers.

Note that we are talking about iMacs and MacBooks. This does NOT include iPads, iPods, and iPhones. They use completely different software.

Anyway, if you have an iMac or MacBook (or MacBook Air), we highly recommend that you have antivirus software installed on your Mac.

If you want the best security there is, then consider subscribing to our Security And Maintenance (SAM) service plan. It’s only $20/month. It includes the best security software you can buy. But our SAM plan is much more than just security. Click here for more information on our SAM plan. The next best security for the Mac would be BitDefender. It costs $50/year. There are also some free security programs for the Mac. The best ones are Sophos and Avast.

If you have any questions or need help with your Mac, please contact us.

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How to Encrypt Your Email

June 28, 2017

In past newsletters, we have told you how email is not a secure form of communication. As an email travels from one sever to another, it can be intercepted and read by programs (called bots) that harvest information from email. We told you to never send sensitive or important information of any kind through email. We have been asked several times if there’s a way to set up secure email. The answer was always, yes, but it’s not easy and it probably doesn’t work like you think it would.

Recently, however, we have been testing a Firefox add-on called “Encrypted  Communication”. This add-on is limited in what it will work with and there are still extra steps you have to go through. But using this add-on, you can indeed send an encrypted email.

First, you need Firefox (http://www.getfirefox.com) and you have to install the “Encrypted Communications” add-on(https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/encrypted-communication/).  Next, you must be using webmail. You can’t be using Windows 10 Mail, Thunderbird, Windows Live Mail, Outlook, or anything like that. You must be using the webmail interface to your email, which all email has. To access your webmail, open Firefox. In the top address bar (not the search bar) enter the address for your webmail. Here is a very partial list of the most popular ones.

If your email address ends with Go to
Gmail.com http://www.gmail.com
Yahoo.com, att.net, sbcglobal.net, prodigy.net http://mail.yahoo.com
Austin.rr.com http://mail.twc.com
Hotmail.com, outlook.com, msn.com, live.com http://www.outlook.com
AOL http://mail.aol.com

Once you have Firefox and Encrypted Communications all set up, use Firefox to access your webmail. Compose a new email. When you are ready to send, right-click anywhere in the body of the message and choose Encrypt Communication. It will then ask you for a password. STOP!!

Make sure you use a good password. The longer the better. It should include multiple uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. There should not be any words in it that appear in the dictionary. It should not include any names of any kind. It should not relate to any information about you (dates of birth, phone numbers, kid’s birthdays, street address, etc.). Can’t think of a good password? Use a password generator to make this easy https://www.roboform.com/password-generator.
Use a password manager to safely store and manage your passwords.
For more information about how to create a good password, read this article on our website. For more information about password managers, read this article on our website.

If I didn’t make that clear, make sure you use a good password. It will ask you to verify the password, so you’ll have to enter it twice. After that, your email is now encrypted. You can now press the send button.

Now, the person you are sending the email to will also have to use Firefox. They will also have to have the Encrypted Communication add-on installed. And, you will have to tell them what the password is for that email. No, don’t email them the password. Call them, text them, send them a letter, whatever. Assuming the recipient of the email has all of that, they will get an email that looks like a bunch of random characters. All they have to do is right-click on the body of the message and choose Decyrpt Communication. It will then prompt them for the password. Once the correct password is entered, the email will be readable. If they close the email and re-open it, they will have to re-input the password.

So, there you have it. You can send encrypted email. And that means absolutely nobody can read that email except you and the recipient, right? Unfortunately, no. Encrypting an email as described above will prevent almost everyone from reading it, but not everyone. The NSA, for example, can get around just about any type of encryption according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

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