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Seven Rules for Staying Productive When Working Remotely

Telecommuting is now a norm in the marketplace.  The 2014 National Study of Employers found that 67% of American workers spend some time telecommuting.  Many work entire from a location apart of the Company offices, and most often at home.

On a whole, telecommuting is a great boon to the employees and through them the businesses. The State of Telecommuting 2014 found that employees who telecommute reported increased moral (80%) and productivity (70%); with a decrease in stress levels (82%) and absenteeism (69%).

But telecommuting has its challenges – primarily remaining productive outside of the traditional work environment.  The key to remaining productive is to build proper habits and following them as though they were company rules.  Some great examples are:

  1. Designate a specific workspace.  Attempting to work on the couch in your sweatpants is the gateway to productivity disaster.   Designate a specific space where you work every day.   Keep it clean of non-work items (like a TV remote or fiction novel), and furnish it with the business tools that you need, starting with proper light.
  2. Maintain your workday routine.  Go through the same process as if you were going into the office.  Sticking to the routine puts you in “business mode” and reinforces that you may be at home, but today is work.
  3. Build the day around the schedule that best fits your productivity.  One of the major advantages of telecommuting is that you get to set the schedule.  So make sure you set the schedule that supports how you work best.  Do not allow the flexibility of working from home to become a license to give your most productive times to something other than your business activities.
  4. Set and keep office hours.  Having a designated time to start, to break, and to stop will greatly enhance productivity.  Do not follow your mood or allow yourself diversions.  The idea is to replicate a work day – in a setting you better control, in a schedule that works better for you, and in a climate that minimizes the stress – but it is still a work day.
  5. Stay closely connected to your team.  More connected workers are more productive.  Most work involves collaboration, and when you are not in the same physical place, you must be intentional about staying in touch.  Connectivity is easier than ever with cloud computing.  Stay in touch, remain responsive, remain engaged.
  6. Maintain a professional atmosphere.  Daytime television, barking dogs, and playing children will rob you of productivity.  Maintain a professional demeanor and practice.  Have a filing system, observe confidentiality rules, shred sensitive documents.  If you “do the little things” it will establish a pattern of productivity.  As has often been said – where you lack discipline, add structure.
  7. Log off when you are done.   Working remotely does not mean that you are always at work. The line between work and personal life blurs more than ever when you work from home.  At the end of the work day — log off and “go home” even if home is just a few steps away.

Telecommuting can be either great advantage or a great time drain.  The flexibility and quality of life to be gained is worth the discipline and effort to make it intentionally productive.

OnPoint Editor. “Seven Rules for Staying Productive When Working Remotely” August 2015

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14 Warning Signs that Your Computer is Malware-Infected

Malware attacks affect us all.

The increasing number of Internet users worldwide creates an equal (or larger) number of opportunities for cyber criminals to take advantage of our systems. As we become more dependent on the online environment, we can clearly see a massive growth in malware and cyber criminal activities all across the globe.

Source: McAfee Labs Threats Report, April 2017

According to the McAfee Labs Threats Report of 2017, the number of malware has seen a decline during the past three quarters of 2016, a pattern that was also noticed at the beginning of 2015. However, the graphic clearly shows a massive growth in malware attacks and cyber criminal activities all across the globe.

With so many ways out there to access and exploit vulnerable systems, we need to make sure we’re able to recognize a malware infection in order to prevent and defend our systems. You need to know how to tell if you have malware!

Because it is a battle and you need to be ready.

This article will show you what the main symptoms of a malware infected system are. You’ll also learn to correctly evaluate the risk.

Symptoms of a malware infection

1. SLOWDOWN

Does it take longer than normal for your operating system to boot up?
Are you waiting too long for some of your programs to start?

It is a known fact that malware has the tendency to slow down your operating system, your Internet speed or the speed of your applications.

If you notice something like this and you’re not using any resource-heavy program or application, check for other causes first. It may be a lack of RAM memory, a fragmented system, a lack of space on your hard drive or maybe a hardware issue affecting your drive.

If you have already thoroughly verified possible causes and all seems fine, you can start considering a potential malware infection.

2. POPUPS

One of the most annoying signs of malware is represented by the unwanted pop-up windows. Unexpected pop-ups which appear on the system are a typical sign of a spyware infection.

In this particular case, the main issue is created not only by the numerous pop-up windows that affect your Internet navigation, but also because it is quite difficult to remove them from the system.

Pop-ups are not only annoying, but they usually come bundled with other concealed malware threats, and which could be far more destructive for our systems.

To avoid spyware and its impact on our systems, keep in mind a few security practices:

  • don’t click any suspicious pop-up windows
  • don’t answer unsolicited emails/messages
  • be careful when downloading free applications

To remove this type of threat, you need a very good security product against spyware. A few popular products capable of removing spyware from your system are Malwarebytes, Spybot Search and Destroy, Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware and others.

3. CRASHES

If your programs or your system crash constantly or the infamous BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) appears regularly, it’s a clear warning that your system is not working properly and you should look into it.

There are two things that can cause this type of issues:

  1. You could be dealing with a technical issue caused by a potential incompatibility between your software and/or hardware
  2. Or it may be a malware issue.

If you suspect a technical issue, multiple software problems may lead to this.

Are you running various programs which may conflict with each other? Are there any orphaned registry keys which have not been removed that could down and eventually crash your system?

Orphaned registry keys are pieces of data information that have been left behind during the process of uninstalling several programs from your computer. They don’t only take up unnecessary space on the PC, but can represent a serious liability for the proper functionality of your computer. To clear them, you have the option of using the Registry Editor (Regedit.exe) that can be opened in the search bar of Windows and then selecting the run command. The daunting part of this process is the fact that you have to manually remove these orphaned keys and this can be very tedious work for everybody.

Our recommendation is to run an automated cleaning session with the help of a specialized program such as CC Cleaner which is free. This will automatically scan missed and unused keys while also having the option to backup the data before the actual cleaning. After installing CCleaner, click the Registry icon (see the image below), select the items you want to remove, click on Scan for issues and a list of potential issues will be generated. Once the scan process is finished, you can review the list and click on Fix selected issues to solve the outstanding Registry issues. You will be asked to backup changes.

If you are checking for malware, simply run a complete scan on the system with a good antivirus product. It is important to have a reliable security solution on your system, which should include real-time scanning, automatic update and a firewall.

4. SUSPICIOUS HARD DRIVE ACTIVITY

Another warning sign of a potential malware infection on your system is the hard drive activity. If you notice that your disk continues to exhibit excessive activity even when you don’t use it and there is no program or download running at that moment, this could be the right time to check your system for malware.

We have to mention that another possible cause for the abnormal hard disk activity could be a hardware failure of the disk. You should also take this into consideration.

We should mention that it helps checking what programs and processes are constantly accessing your hard drive, so you can easily detect unusual activity.

5. RUNNING OUT OF HARD DRIVE SPACE

Regarding the hard drive, you also need to check if your physical storage space has been increasing lately or if some of your files disappeared or changed their names.

This is another sign of malware activity, since there are numerous types of malicious programs which use various methods to fill up all the available space in the hard drive and cause it to crash.

6. UNUSUALLY HIGH NETWORK ACTIVITY

There are cases where the user is not connected to the Internet through his browser, and there is no program that may connect to online servers to download or upload any data, but high network activity can still be observed.

First of all, we need to check the following:

  •  Is there any Windows update at that moment?
  •  Is there any program or application that’s downloading or uploading any data?
  •  Is there any update for a certain app running at that moment?
  •  Is there a large download that you started and forgot about, which may still be running in the background?

If the answer to all these questions is No, then maybe you should check where all that traffic is going.

  • To monitor your network, you can use one of the following programs: GlassWire, Little Snitch or Wireshark.
  • To check for a malware infection, use a good antivirus product to check your system. If you want to minimize the risk of infecting your computer system with malware, you can use one of these useful security measures.
  • If you suspect that your computer has been infected by a dangerous financial malware, you need a specialized security suite designed to address these type of threats.

7.  NEW BROWSER HOMEPAGE, NEW TOOLBARS and/or UNWANTED WEBSITES ACCESSED WITHOUT YOUR INPUT

Have you noticed that your home page has been changed and you don’t remember doing it yourself?
Did a new toolbar pop out of nowhere and landed at top of your web browser?
Have you tried to access your favorite blog, but you were redirected to a different address?

This usually happens when you visit a website and you accidentally click a link or a pop-up window. This triggers unwanted software to download and install on your device. Its effects are not only annoying, but also malicious.

Run a complete scan with your security solution as soon as possible. Because these type of threats don’t go away easily. Make sure you run additional scans with specialized software, such as anti-spyware programs as the ones mentioned above.

8. UNUSUAL MESSAGES OR PROGRAMS THAT START AUTOMATICALLY

A few warning signs should really make you suspicious. If any of these happen, pay closer attention and try finding the cause:

  • if, all of a sudden, you see programs opening and closing automatically
  • your Windows operating system shutting down without reason
  • if you notice strange windows in the booting process
  • or if Windows informs you that you’ve lost access to some of your drives.

Though the root cause may be a technical one, it could also be a sign that malware has compromised your system. If this is the case and you lost access to some important areas of your operating system, you need to prepare for the worst. These are the cases when a complete wipe and reinstall of the operating system is taken into consideration.

 9. YOUR SECURITY SOLUTION IS DISABLED

If your antivirus solution doesn’t seem to work anymore or if the Update module seems to be disabled, then check to see what happened immediately!

You should know that some types of malware are especially designed to disable security solutions, leaving you without any defense. If you already tried to reboot your computer, close and open the security solution and all your troubleshooting efforts were useless, you could consider the malware infection scenario.

This is especially the case since traditional antivirus solutions are sometimes unable to block and remove advanced malware, such as ransomware or financial malware. There are a couple of strong reasons why this is happening, and you should read about them, so you can enhance your protection by adding multiple layers.

For a more in-depth guide on how to remove all types of malware, not just spyware and adware, we recommend you check out our malware removal guide.

10. YOUR FRIENDS TELL YOU THAT THEY’RE GETTING STRANGE MESSAGES FROM YOU

Are your friends telling you that they received suspicious emails from you or instant messages from your social media account, which often include attachments or links?


 

First of all, you need to verify whether those emails or messages were sent from one of your accounts (so check your Sent Items folder in your email/social media account). If there’s nothing there, those messages could have been delivered from an application which is out of your control.

If you discover the messages were sent from one of your accounts, take these steps:

  • Make sure you logged out from all your accounts. We access the same accounts on our work computers, on our home laptops and of course, on our mobile devices. Since we log in to our favorite online accounts on so many devices, it can happen that sometimes we forget to log out. Therefore, always make sure to log out from your online accounts on all devices.
  • Set strong passwords for your accounts. Don’t use the same password for all your accounts! Even if you are hacked, having different passwords for each account will help you limit a potential loss. Make a habit of managing your passwords safely.
  • Use two-factor authentication. This option can significantly increase your control over your accounts’ security. Using two-factor authentication means that, besides entering your credentials, you will also need to enter a code sent to your phone.

11.  NEW, UNFAMILIAR ICONS ON DESKTOP & BATTERY LIFE DRAINS QUICKLY

If you are noticing unknown and new icons on the desktop of your computer, you may have downloaded a piece of software that contains PUPs (Potentially Unwanted Programs). Also known as PUAs (Potentially Unwanted Applications), these are software programs that you most likely didn’t want to install on your computer.

They are considered to be malware and can do a lot a damage by collecting private information, showing annoying ads or pop-ups on the desktop or adding toolbars on your browser.

Did your cellphone’s battery life is draining fast? You may have lots of applications and program running, such as games or streaming services, or, the worst scenario, it could be a virus infection affecting your device. This mainly happened because most of the devices didn’t receive the latest system updates, making them vulnerable to cyber attacks.

12. YOU SEE UNUSUAL ERROR MESSAGES

If you see unusual error messages saying that you have missing or corrupt files folders on your computer, it could be a warning sign that is infected with malware. These type of messages can suggest your PC has been compromised and affect its system performance, making the apps and programs run slowly. Pay attention to these errors, run an antivirus program and make sure your operating system is up to date.

13. YOU ARE UNABLE TO ACCESS THE CONTROL PANEL, TASK MANAGER, REGISTRY EDITOR OR COMMAND PROMPT

Do you find yourself in the situation when you can’t access the Control Panel, Task Manager, Registry Editor or Command Prompt? This is another sign that your computer is vulnerable and exposed to potential cyber attacks. To keep your PC safe and protected, it’s recommended to run a full scan of your system using a good antivirus program. For more protection, we warmly suggest using a proactive security solution to keep your confidential information properly safe.

14. EVERYTHING SEEMS TO WORK PERFECTLY NORMAL

When it comes to keeping your data safe and secure, you need to be vigilant and careful, even if things might look normal. Unfortunately, there are some cases when different types of malware can hide their activity, leave no visible marks and still infect your computer. Everything may seem to work perfectly normal on your PC, until a bot on your system could silently await for instructions from ITS control and command system, accessing and collecting your personal information.

Knowledge is our best weapon

Knowing how malicious software behaves on a regular system may just prove to be the key element between staying safe and having your system wrecked or your online identity stolen.

Since we live in a connected and complex environment, online security doesn’t end with installing a series of security programs and forgetting about them. It’s essential that we also understand how malware behaves on the system, so we can mitigate its impact.

In the end, it is our knowledge of malware tools and methods that keeps us safe, because it is far easier to prevent a threat from becoming reality than to take actions against it when it’s already too late.

Zaharia, Andra. “14 Warning Signs That Your Computer is Malware-Infected” Heimdal Security July 2017


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How to Use Public Wi-Fi and Not Get Hacked

Follow these tips to keep your accounts safe and secure while using public Wi-Fi.

VPN: HOW TO USE VIRTUAL PRIVATE NETWORKS

“Public Wi-Fi is crazy dangerous,” said Tài Doick, Fort Gordon Army base and U.S. Cyber Center of Excellence webmaster and social media manager.  “Twenty five percent of all public Wi-Fi isn’t protected. That means that any data you send over these networks can be seen by everyone. You should never connect to one of these networks.”

And while it may seem helpful when businesses post passwords in public view, it means that anyone who logs onto the network can decrypt information being transferred over it, including banking login credentials, social security numbers, phone numbers and more.

Dr. John Krautheim, assistant professor of computer science at Augusta University, said your best defense is to use a Virtual Private Network, or VPN.

“A VPN encrypts all information that leaves your computer,” said Krautheim. “The VPN assures that no one within the Wi-Fi network can see your data.”

To set up a VPN service you can use a private service that you set up at home or your office like OpenVPN. Some companies provide VPNs for their employees and there are commercial VPN providers that sell a VPN service for a small fee like NordVPNPrivate Internet Access and PureVPN. If you’re attempting to access Wi-Fi in a hotel room, HotSpotVPN is a good option.

Doick also recommends the following when using a VPN on public Wi-Fi is the only available option:

  • enable your built-in firewall to protect yourself from everyone who’s on the same router that you are
  • use “https,” which means the connection is encrypted
  • secure your email with an SSL connection; if your email provider supports this, it will add an extra layer of security
  • don’t use Wi-Fi hotspots without passwords
  • don’t use hotspots to perform any online banking or to transfer confidential, personal information

PROTECT PASSWORDS AND PINS

We all should know better: storing passwords on your device is a no-no.

“Do not let your apps remember passwords,” Krautheim said, “especially important passwords like banking, financial and other private data.  If someone does break into your phone, they will not have access to your private accounts.”

Another note about apps: In protecting your device from malware, use only the app store approved for your device.

“These stores regularly validate their apps to ensure they do not have malware and meet the requirements for the store,” Krautheim said.  “Do not ‘sideload’ apps or ‘jailbreak’ your phone, as this opens your device to being compromised by malicious software and hackers.  Be wary of ‘free’ apps and check user reviews for reports of suspicious activity.”

PROTECT YOUR CAMERA FROM STALKERS

Doick said to always be on the lookout for cyberstalkers on public Wi-Fi.

“Close to 80 percent of all stalking today is via the internet,” Doick said. “Individuals can easily obtain personal and financial information via social media.”

Doick recommends securing your webcam or IP camera, as hackers can identify your IP camera’s address with a few basic tools. The most often-used is a remote access tool (RAT) like those support technicians use to assist you remotely when fixing a problem.

“To get a RAT on your IP camera, hackers will use phishing, malicious links, Trojan viruses and phony tech-support calls,” Doick said.  “Once you are tricked into running an executable file, they have access and can do whatever they want.  So, use up-to-date security software and be suspicious of random phone calls or emails.”

KNOW HOW TO IDENTIFY SCAMS

It sounds so easy, but a little common sense goes a long way.  In short, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.

“Scams are always changing and there are always new scams,” Krautheim said. “Always be vigilant and suspicious of internet and social media postings and unsolicited emails and phone calls.  No one is going to send you an email asking for your password or bank account information.”

Krautheim also recommends being cautious on all devices including laptops, phones and tablets.

“Do not click on suspicious links in messages, social media and email,” he said.  “Do not download and install anything [if] you are unsure what it does.”

GET SMART ABOUT SMARTPHONES

Strides in smartphone technology have made them just as powerful as laptops; but with these advances comes additional pitfalls.

They’re just as susceptible—if not more so—to security issues.

“Your phone might have years of text messages and emails with personal information, saved voicemails, pictures of your family, GPS location data, browsing history, notes and more,” Doick said. “Every new tablet or smartphone has at least one camera and real-time audio recording capability.”

Mobile spying malware has recently targeted both iOS and Android tech by accessing historic data like those years of texts and emails.

IF POSSIBLE, DON’T TAKE YOUR PHONE AT ALL

If you have the option, Krautheim said, use a “burner” phone with a minimal number of apps as a travel phone overseas as a way to avoid a lost, stolen or confiscated phone during travel.

These pay-as-you-go cell phones, called “burner phones,” can be purchased domestically or internationally.  With the appropriate SIM card these phones can be used for data connections and calls.

If you are using your regular phone, you should always keep it backed up to the cloud. In addition to keeping your data safe, it allows you to “wipe” the phone before border crossing, to prevent customs agents from examining your phone’s contents.

In addition to being backed up, mobile phones should always stay locked when not being used.

“This should be with a six-digit PIN,” Krautheim said. “Fingerprint readers are convenient, but it is easier to force you to use your fingerprint than put in a PIN.  Laws in some countries provide more protections for PIN-based locks than fingerprint.”

McKee, Jennifer. “How to Use Public Wi-Fi and Not Get Hacked” Where Traveler July 2017

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How to Add Your Signature to Electronic Documents

Tired of printing, signing and then scanning or faxing documents that need your signature?  You don’t have to go through all of those time-consuming steps to attach an electronic signature to most documents.  Some of the apps you’re already using—like Word or Acrobat—can already attach a signature to a document for free.  But if you need to sign digital documents on a regular basis or you’re just looking for something a little simpler, there are apps for your computer, tablet and smartphone that can make signing digital documents even easier.

First off, let’s clarify something: electronic signatures and digital signatures, for all that they sound alike, are two different things.  An electronic signature is simply an image of your signature added to a document while a digital signature is encrypted data that proves the document came from you.  For some purposes, a simple electronic signature will be fine, but for more important documents, a secure digital signature is highly recommended.

Signing PDF documents and paper documents with your phone

One of the easiest ways to sign a PDF document is to use the Adobe Sign & Fill app (free for iOS and Android). For paper forms, you can snap a picture, add any required text and your signature, and save.

If you receive an email with a PDF email attachment on your iPhone, you tap the attachment to view it, tap on the toolbox in the lower right corner, and you’ll see tool to add text and your signature to the document. When you first use the app, you’ll be prompted to create a signature that you can then save for future documents. Once you’ve added the text and signature and tapped “Done,” a reply email is automatically created with the filled-out document attached.

 

If you have an Android phone, the process is similar. You tap on the email attachment to view it and it will open in Adobe Fill & Sign (you may have to select it as the app to open the document).  You’ll see tools for adding text and your signature.  Tap anywhere in the document to add text and tap the pen icon to add your signature. When you’re done, tap on the share icon.  Select email, and the app will automatically save the document and create an email with the attachment.

 

Capturing your signature

If you’re adding your signature to a Word document or PDF, the first step is capturing an image of your signature which will go in your document in lieu of your actual signature.  You can get your signature in several different ways:

  • Write it in black ink on a piece of blank white paper, then scan or photograph it. Scanning will get you the best image, but if you don’t have a scanner be sure you’re photographing in a well-lit area and that no shadows fall over your signature.
  • Draw it with your mouse or trackpad in a paint program like Paint for Windows or Paintbrush for Mac.  Be warned, however, that it may take a few tries to get your signature to look right—if you’re using your trackpad, we recommend a stylus.
  • Write it on your smartphone or tablet using any graphics app or a signature capture app like Signature Saver (free in Google Play) or Autograph (free in iTunes). Again, using a stylus will help you make your signature look like your signature.

Once you have a graphics file, you’ll want to save it as a “.png” file. Paint and Paintbrush have that as a choice when you use “Save As” to save your file. The PNG format lets you save your signature with a transparent background so it won’t cover up signature lines or other information underneath. Now you have an electronic copy of your signature.

Adding your signature to a Word document

Since so many documents are in Microsoft Word format, this seems like a good place to start. Word supports both electronic signatures and digital signatures, so you can use whichever works best for your purpose—though be warned, this is an expensive way to sign documents digitally.

If you’re using a document that’s set up with a special signature line, signing is straightforward: just double click the signature line and a Sign dialog box will pop up. Here, you can add a printed version of your signature by typing your name, add a handwritten signature on a tablet PC writing your name as usual, or insert an image of your signature by clicking “Select Image,” finding your signature file, and then clicking “Select.”

Digital signatures in Word are a bit more complicated, requiring you to purchase a third-party digital certificate to prove to anyone who reads the document that it came from you—which can cost several hundred dollars per year. While you can create your own digital signature, you’ll only be able to verify its authenticity from your computer, which isn’t a good option for sending documents to others. If you need to send a lot of documents with a digital signature, buying a digital certificate might make sense, but if you aren’t, we recommend using a simple electronic signature or one of the apps below. To go ahead with a digital signature, click on the Microsoft Office Button, then “Prepare,” then “Add a Digital Signature,” and click sign—you’ll be prompted to create a digital ID from there.

If you’re signing a document that hasn’t been set up for Word’s signature system, you’ll find clicking on the signature line does nothing—but that’s okay, because you can still insert your signature. Just place your cursor where you want to add your signature and choose “Insert” and then “Picture.”  Select your signature file and you’ll see your signature appear in the document.  Don’t worry if the picture has messed up the formatting of the document, you’re just about to fix that.

Now, click on your signature and drag the corners to resize your signature until it looks right.  Then select “Page Layout,” “Wrap Text” and then “Behind Text.”  Now you can then use the arrow keys to fine tune the placement of your signature.  When you have it just right, use “Save As” to save your signed document as a PDF file.

Adding your signature to a PDF document

Signing a PDF is even easier than signing a Word document!  You’re likely already using Adobe’s Acrobat Reader DC for desktop systems (free for both Mac and Windows) to read PDFs, and it offers an easy way to sign documents whether they have or haven’t been configured to accept electronic signatures.

All you have to do is open your document, click “Tools,” then click “Fill & Sign.”  Click the “Sign” button in the toolbar and you’ll be prompted to type, draw or use an image of your signature.  When you’re done, click “Apply” and then drag the signature where you want it to go—if needed, you can resize your signature under options in the field toolbar.  Acrobat will save your signature for future use, making it easy to sign your next document.

For Mac users, there’s another option: the default Preview PDF viewer lets you easily insert signatures.  Just open your document, click on the toolbox icon in the menu bar and then the signature icon. You can capture your signature using your trackpad or by signing your name on paper and then using your Mac’s built-in camera. Just select whether you’re using your trackpad or your camera, sign or photograph your signature, and drag it to where it belongs on the document. If it needs to be resized, just drag the corners of the signature box until it fits perfectly.

Signing documents with an app

If the above solutions don’t work for you or you just want to sign using your smartphone or tablet, apps designed for document signing make it simple.  All of the apps below use bank-level encryption and security as well as providing authenticated, legally binding digital signatures.  For those who need an authenticated signature, this is probably where you want to look because these options are very economical, whether you’re signing one document a month or a dozen.

CudaSignThough it’s geared towards businesses, with document templates, SignNow isn’t a bad choice for personal use, either. In fact, it’s the lowest cost option if you need to sign more than three documents a month.  CudaSign works on the web or your smartphone or tablet, with mobile apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android, making it easy to sign documents no matter where you are.

Signing documents is simple: You can up upload them from email, your camera roll, cloud storage services like Dropbox or from your computer.  Just sign using your finger on your smartphone or tablet, then send your signed document to anyone by email.

Price: $5 per user per month if billed annually ($60 per year) at SignNow

HelloSignIf you only need to sign a few documents a month, but more than the total of three SignEasy offers, you’ll want to look into HelloSign—available for iPhone, iPad, and Android.  Like SignEasy, it’s simple to import documents into HelloSign: you can pull them in from directly Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, Box or OneDrive, and it integrates with Gmail.  You can also grab paper documents just by snapping a photo with your smartphone or tablet camera.  No matter the source, you can edit or annotate documents from the app, sign them using your finger and then save, share or email them.

The good thing and the bad thing about HelloSign is the price.  If you don’t need to sign many documents, it’s free for up to three signatures per month. But if you need more than that, it’s pricier than SignEasy or CudaSign at $13 per month.

Price: Free for up to three signatures a month, $13 per month if billed annually ($156/year) for unlimited signatures at HelloSign

Harper, Elizabeth. “How to Add Your Signature to Electronic Documents” Techlicious July 2017

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25 Alexa Tips and Tricks

Amazon is always adding new features to its Echo devices.

With so many voice commands that work with the Echo’s assistant, Alexa, it’s easy to overlook some of the more helpful ones. You might’ve also missed some of the features added since you first unboxed your Echo.

If you want to get the most out of Alexa, here’s a list of useful tips that will help you get what you want from her.

1. MAKE PROFILES FOR EVERY FAMILY MEMBER

If multiple people in your home have Amazon accounts, you can add them to your Alexa household profile. To check which profile is currently being used, simply ask, “Alexa, which profile is this?” And to switch profiles, say, “Alexa, switch profiles.”

While adding additional members doesn’t give you separate shopping or to-do lists, it does allow you to share content libraries. Beware, though, as it also allows them to use your Prime account to order items.

2. CHANGE THE WAKE WORD

Whether you have someone in your house by the name Alexa or you’re tired of Amazon’s commercials waking your speaker, changing the device’s wake word is often the best course of action.

Unfortunately, you can’t set your own wake word (yet), but you can choose between Alexa, Amazon, Computer or Echo. To select one of the three alternate wake words, open the Alexa app or alexa.amazon.com, open Settings, choose your Echo device, click Wake Word, choose one of the four options from the dropdown menu and click Save.

3. ‘CAN YOU SAY THAT AGAIN?’

If you ever miss one of Alexa’s responses or need her to repeat something, just ask. Say, “Alexa, can you repeat that?” or, “Alexa, can you say that again?” She will repeat what she just said as many times as you need.

You can also look up recent responses in the Home tab of the Alexa app, as well as listen to the recordings of the things you’ve said to Alexa.

4. DELETE ALL YOUR AMAZON VOICE DATA

Speaking of which, everything you say to Alexa is recorded and uploaded to Amazon’s servers. If you don’t like the idea of hundreds of voice recordings of things you’ve said to your speaker floating around in the cloud, there are two ways to get rid of all those old recordings. Just know that even after purging all the recordings, a new one will be added every time you speak to Alexa.

5. SOLVE QUICK CONVERSIONS AND MATH PROBLEMS

Primarily, I use Alexa for controlling my smart home using my voice. It’s far more convenient than digging through my phone to open one or two applications just to control the lights.

The second most convenient use of Alexa for me is quick calculations or conversions, especially while cooking or making coffee. You can convert currencies or measurements and even do mathematic equations. Just say, “Alexa, 15 times 32” or “Alexa, 10 dollars to pounds.”

6. ADD NON-SUPPORTED SMART HOME DEVICES

If you’ve got a mixture of smart-home devices, chances are, there may be a few that aren’t officially supported by Alexa. But you may not be out of luck.

First, double-check that there isn’t an Alexa Skill for that smart device. It there isn’t, check the online connection sites Yonomi and IFTTT to see if your devices are supported. If so, get to know Yonomi or IFTTT, as they can greatly expand the usefulness of Alexa, allowing you to tie several actions to a single voice command, export your Alexa to-do or shopping list to Apple Reminders or Todoist and much more.

Here are some Alexa IFTTT recipes to get you started.

7. STREAM ANY AUDIO USING BLUETOOTH

By default, you can listen to Amazon Prime Music, Audible audiobooks, iHeartRadio, TuneIn Radio, Pandora and Spotify with the Alexa speakers. You can even have your Kindle books read to you by Alexa herself.

But if you’re looking to play Apple Music, Google Play Music, your own music library or some other unsupported audio, you will need to first pair the Alexa device to a computer or mobile device using Bluetooth. Then you can stream any audio you want, using it as a Bluetooth speaker.

8. SET THE DEFAULT MUSIC SERVICE TO SPOTIFY

Not surprisingly, Amazon devices always push in-house services — such as Kindle, Amazon Music, Audible and so on — anywhere they can. With the Echo speakers, however, you can replace Amazon Music as the default music library with Spotify or as the default station service with Pandora or iHeartRadio. Just open the Amazon Alexa app, go to Settings > Music & Media > Choose default music services and select your preferred services.

What this changes is the need to specify “on Spotify” every time you want to stream music. Instead, you will need to say “on Amazon Music” when queueing up a song to play it through Amazon’s music service.

9. ADD ALEXA SKILLS WITH YOUR VOICE

Until late last month, you could only add Skills to your Alexa devices by using the Alexa app or echo.amazon.com to browse or search the Skills database and manually add them to your device. The process is clunky, mainly because the poor organization of the Skills repository.

Now you can add Skills by voice. Assuming you know the name of the Skill you want to add, just say, “Alexa, enable Lifx” or “Alexa, enable Magic 8-Ball.” After just a few seconds, the skill will be enabled and available to use. Give it a try with one of our favorites (duh) — the CNET News skill.

10. TURN ON THE WAKE-UP SOUND

You don’t need to wait on Alexa to light up after you’ve spoken your wake word to say a command. You can say, “Alexa, turn on the lights” without pausing.

If you’re far from your Alexa speaker and can’t see it, however, you might want to confirm she heard you before speaking the entire command. If you want an audible notification to know Alexa is listening, go to the Alexa app, open Settings > [Echo name] > Sounds and toggle Wake-up sound. For an audible confirmation that Alexa heard your command, you can also enable the End of request sound.

11. ADD A VOICE REMOTE

If you tend to sit too far away from your Alexa speaker to reliably control it, such as from the kitchen while the speaker lives in the living room, consider picking up a Voice Remote for Amazon Echo. It sells for $30 or £20 and works for both the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot (not the Tap).

Pair the remote in the Settings menu in the Alexa app, and you can remotely talk to your Echo from across the house, in other rooms, or even while outside. It does connect using Bluetooth, so the range is limited. But it can save you some frustration if you’re not always near your Echo.

12. MAKE CALLS AND SEND MESSAGES

Back in May, Amazon updated its Echo speakers with the ability to make calls and send messages to other Alexa users.

Anyone in the contacts list on your phone — who is also an owner of an Echo, Echo Dot or Echo Show and has enabled calling — will show up in your Alexa contacts list. You can send them a message by saying, “Alexa, send [name] a message,” or call them by saying, “Alexa, call [name].” The message or call will ring all of their Echo devices and the Alexa app on their phone.

Separately, you can enable Drop In with loved ones so you can check in on them. Drop In works much like voice or video calls, except the person on the other end does not have to answer.

13. USE IT AS AN INTERCOM

Similar to calling, Amazon added an intercom option to Echo speakers within a household. This gives you a direct line of communication to the Echo devices spread around your house.

Say, “Alexa, drop in on the living room,” and anything you say will be played through the Echo speaker in the living room.

14. ORDER ANYTHING FROM AMAZON PRIME

You can now order millions of products just by asking for them. That wasn’t always so. Before this month, you could only reorder things you had previously purchased using Prime. Now you can order anything that is Prime-eligible and is not apparel, jewelry, shoes, watches, Amazon Fresh, Amazon Prime Pantry, Amazon Prime Now or add-on items.

You can even order a Dominos pizza, or a ride from Uber or Lyft.

15. TRACK YOUR AMAZON PACKAGES

If you do happen to order something from Amazon with your Echo, Echo Dot or Tap, you can also track those packages by asking, “Alexa, where’s my stuff?” or saying, “Alexa, track my order.”

The information Alexa will give you about a package isn’t too detailed, but it will tell you the day the packages are expected to arrive. The hope now is for an update that will at least tell you which carrier the item was shipped with so you can better anticipate the time it should arrive.

16. GET DELIVERY NOTIFICATIONS

With calling and messaging on Alexa came notifications for missed calls and unheard messages. The natural progression was to be able to receive other notifications from important skills or other updates.

For now, the only notifications available are the package delivery status for your Amazon Prime orders. When your order is out for delivery, your Echo speakers will let you know with a yellow light ring.

To enable these delivery notifications, open the Alexa app and go to Settings > Accounts > Notifications > Shopping Notifications and toggle it on. Third-party skills will soon be able to send users notifications. To check your notifications, just say, “Alexa, who did I miss?” or, “Alexa, what are my notifications?”

17. GET EXCLUSIVE PRIME DEALS

Amazon likes to show its appreciation for its most loyal customers, particularly those who’ve spent cold, hard cash on an Amazon device. From time to time, Amazon will run special deals that are reserved exclusively for Alexa speaker owners. For instance, the Echo Dot and Tap were initially only available for purchase for those who owned an Amazon Echo.

More recently, Amazon offered Alexa-only Prime Day deals, where a number of deals were reserved for official Amazon Alexa devices only — third-party Alexa devices and services were excluded from those deals.

18. SETTLE AN ARGUMENT

If you and some friends are torn between where to go for dinner or you’re not sure where you want to take this year’s vacation, you can put Alexa in control for totally random decision making. Say, “Alexa, flip a coin” to choose between two possibilities. You can also roll some dice or ask a Magic 8-Ball (if you enable the skill).

19. ACCESS ALEXA FROM A COMPUTER

You don’t need one of Amazon’s speakers or even a third-party Alexa speaker to take the assistant for a spin. All you need is a desktop web browser.

From the web, you can navigate to Echosim.io and log in to your Amazon account. To interact with Alexa, click and hold on the microphone button and speak a command or ask a question. Alexa will respond just as she would from official hardware. Almost all Alexa features can be accessed through Echosim.io, as well. You can enable skills, control smart home devices and so on. However, you cannot stream audio, and while you can set a timer or alarm, there will be no sound when the timer has elapsed or the alarm is set to go off.

20. USE ALEXA FROM THE AMAZON APP ON IOS

Amazon has replaced the voice search function in the Amazon shopping app on iOS with Alexa. You can control your smart home, ask for facts, get unit conversions and much more.

To use it, open the Amazon app on iOS and tap the microphone icon to the right of the search bar. From there, you can ask anything you would normally ask Alexa. You can even stream music, an audiobook or a podcast while you shop from your phone.

21. REMOVE AN ALEXA DEVICE

If you use one of the above Alexa emulators or build your own Alexa device, you may notice there is no way to remove them from your account in the Alexa app. Instead, you will need to head over to Amazon.com and locate the devices under Manage Your Content and Devices and deregister Alexa devices from there.

22. ORDER YOUR FAVORITE FOOD AND DRINK

Thanks to over 10,000 skills, you can now do a lot more with Alexa than before. For instance, you can Enable the Pizza Hut or Dominos skills to order your favorite pizzas for delivery to your door. Or you can queue up your favorite Starbucks order with your voice on your way out the door so it’s already prepared when you arrive at Starbucks.

23. CREATE REMINDERS

Alexa now lets you create reminders so you can remember to check the oven or that you should go to the grocery store at a certain time.

To create a reminder, just say something like, “Alexa, remind me to stop by the post office tomorrow at 10 a.m.” At 10 a.m. the next day, Alexa will sound an alarm, reminding you to go to the post office. You can also say things like:

  • “Alexa, reminder.”
  • “Alexa, remind me to check the oven in 15 minutes.”
  • “Alexa, remind me to call Mom four days from now.”
  • “Alexa, what are my reminders this weekend?”
  • “Alexa, what reminders do I have tomorrow?”

24. BREW A CUP OF COFFEE

If you’d rather save yourself the trip to Starbucks, you can have Alexa start your coffee maker for you. Not only can the Behmor Connected Brewer be controlled by Alexa, it integrates with Amazon’s Dash buttons to automatically reorder coffee when it starts to get low.

The Mr. Coffee Smart Optimal Brew coffee maker also integrates with Alexa through IFTTT. However, all you really need to make coffee using your voice is a compatible smart switch and a very basic drip coffee brewer.

25. MOUNT IT ON THE WALL

This is less a feature and more a unique design choice, but if you can’t seem to find a place you like for the Amazon Echo or Echo Dot, consider mounting it to the wall. While it will put the speaker closer to the wall than recommended, it will also get it away from other obstructions and might allow you to place it in a more central location.

When it works as intended, which is more often than not, the Alexa Voice Service is an extremely powerful tool, which I love having around the house. There are countless practical uses for it.

Martin, Taylor. “25 Alexa Tips & Tricks” CNET  July 2017

Posted in: IoT

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6 Features to Make you More Productive in Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office is a software which is running on almost every computer.  It is a valuable tool that is used by many on a daily basis. You need it whether you are a professional, a retiree or a student.

When Microsoft releases new versions of Office, it always comes with new and improved features.  So, if you want to take full advantage of this tool it is important that you stay up-to-date and familiarize yourself with its many new features.

Here’s a list of some good tools that I think you will find very useful.

1. The Smart Lookup Feature:

This is a feature which makes it easier to find facts through search engines.  This feature is available in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. This will launch a pane, which is powered by Bing, Microsoft’s search engine. Articles, definitions, images etc. will appear in the pane.

  1. Select the portion of text you want to look up.
  2. Right Click, Select “Smart Lookup” or go to Review > Smart Lookup  for Office 2016
  3. Right Click , select “Search with Bingfor Office 2013

2. Helping you with Recent Documents:

  • Click File > Open > Recent Documents

This feature is turned on by default, but you can turn it off, turn it back on, or adjust the number of files that it displays. So, if you want to change the number of files that appear in the list of recently used files:

Directions for Word 2016

  1. Click the Microsoft Office Button, and then click Options.
  2. Click Advanced.
  3. Under Display, in the Show this number of Recent Documents list, click the number of files that you want to display.

Directions for Word 2013

  1. Click File > Options > Advanced
  2. Make changes desired under “Display
  3. Click okay

3. The ‘Tell Me’ Feature: (in Office 2016)

You’ll notice a text box on the ribbon in Office 2016 that says ‘Tell me what you want to do.’ This is a text field where you can enter words and phrases about what you want to do next and quickly get to features you want to use or actions you want to perform. You can also use Tell Me to find help about what you’re looking for, or to use Smart Lookup to research or define the term you entered.

4. Using Date Fields:

Microsoft Office offers the feature of adding the latest date and time to the document. When you use the document on any other date, then you can put the current time and date on it. It only takes seconds. It is possible that you may forget to update the date and time, so Word offers a feature which helps in updating it automatically.

  1. Click in the document where you want to insert the date.
  2. Click Insert > Date and Time.
  3. Choose the correct format.
  4. Check the box: Update Automatically (optional).
  5. Click OK.

 

5.  Creating Graphs from Tables is as Easy as 123:

If the document that you are writing has a lot tables in it and you need to create graphs, the new Word feature has made it easier to convert the tables into graphs.

  1. Select the table to be converted.
  2. Click on Insert > Chart
  3. Select the chart type and click OK

6. Translation Options:

You can translate the document into different languages by using the translate feature.  You can translate just a word or as many sentences as needed.

  1. Right Click > Translate
  2. Select the Language of choice in the Research window
  3. Click Insert and the text you selected will be translated.

These are just a few of the many features offered in Microsoft Office.  I hope they are helpful!

Manzoor, Adnan. ” 7 Things You Should Know About Microsoft Office to Make Work Easier” Lifehack June 2017

Posted in: MS Office Tips and Tricks

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Do you Know These Double-click Tricks in Excel?

Do you know these Double-click Tricks in Excel?

Most of us think of mastering formulas, learning macros and being super good with charts when we think of being productive with spreadsheets. But often learning simple stuff like keyboard shortcuts, using mouse and working with menus and ribbons can be a huge productivity booster for us.

Double Click on the Office Button / Logo to Close Excel

 

 

This is simple. Displays “do you want to save…” dialog if the workbook is not saved.

Adjust column widths by selecting multiple columns and double clicking on the separators

 

 

 

 

This is my favorite. You can use the same trick to adjust row heights too.

Double-click in the corner, just above scroll-bar to include a split

 

 

 

 

It is surprising that very few people know about split and freeze panes feature in excel. I have often seen colleagues struggling to freeze top row of a large workbook or include a split so that they can see 2 different things at a time.

You can also create a vertical split by clicking on the little bar shape next to horizontal scroll-bar near bottom right corner of the excel window.

(If you are wondering where the split would be created, it will be created at selected cell’s row (or column))

Double click on ribbon menu names to collapse ribbon to get more space

 

 

 

 

In MS Office 2007 you can double click on the ribbon menus to collapse the ribbon to one line. In Excel 2003, when you double click on the empty space in the toolbar area, it opens up the “customize” window (same as Menu > tools > customize)

Auto-fill a series of cells with data or formulas by just double clicking

 

 

 

 

I have saved countless minutes ever since I learned this little trick. Lets say you have a table where in one column you have some data and in the next you have written a formula in the first row. Now how would you copy the formula and paste it in all cells in that column?

Copy the formula (ctrl+c), select all cells, paste the formula.

Well, no more. Just select the formula in first cell, double click in the bottom right corner and see the magic.

The trick works for formulas, auto-fills (of numbers, dates, what not) as long as the adjacent column has data.

Jump to last row / column in table with double-click

 

 

 

 

Just select any cell in the table and double click on the cell-border in the direction you want to go. See the screencast.

Lock a particular feature and reuse them with double-click

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can lock any repeatable feature (like format painter, drawing connectors, shapes etc.) by just double clicking on the icon (in Excel 2007 this works for format painter, but for drawing shapes you need to right click and select lock drawing mode). This can save you a ton of time when you need to repeat same action several times.

Chandoo. “Do you know Double-click Tricks in Excel?” Excel Howtos, Learn Excel June 2009

Posted in: MS Office Tips and Tricks

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Unsubscribing from Spam Only Makes It Worse

The last time I checked my spam folder, I noticed a few messages included an unsubscribe link. Well that’s nice, I thought. Maybe spammers realize that some people will never respond, so they want to trim their lists for efficiency. I clicked “unsubscribe.” That was a mistake.

While “legit companies” honor unsubscribe requests, says the McAfee Labs blog, “shady” ones just use the unsubscribe buttons to confirm your address and send you more spam. Sophos blogger Alan Zeichick says that clicking unsubscribe tells the spammer you opened their email, possibly because you were interested or suspected it was real. By visiting the spammer’s fake unsubscribe page, you’re giving them your browser info and IP address, and even opening yourself up to malware attacks.

If an email looks like truly shady spam (and not just a newsletter you’re sick of reading), don’t click any links. Just mark it as spam and move on.

Douglas, Nick. “Unsubscribing from Spam Only Makes It Worse” Lifehacker June 2017

Posted in: E-mail, Security

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Six Google Search Tips to Find Anything Faster

Start searching smarter.

Google is the go-to destination when you need to find something on the web—the verb “to google” even made it into the dictionary.  But while everyone’s heard of the popular search engine, very few know how to make the most of it.

Behind the unassuming Google interface, you’ll find a host of useful tricks to help you zero in on what exactly you want to find. Looking for an obscure recipe or rare photo?  Read on to start using Google like an expert.

Include and exclude keywords

When you type a bunch of search terms into Google, it’s smart enough to understand—more or less—what you want.  However, the search engine sometimes provides results that match most of, but not all, of the words you typed. To be more specific, you can point out which keywords are the most important: Put a plus symbol (+) in front of words you want to force Google to include. What if the results you want get pushed off the page by similar, but irrelevant, articles?  There’s an easy fix: Just add a minus symbol (-) in front of keywords that you don’t want to see.

Google has to match any word preceded by a plus, and exclude any word preceded by a minus. Keywords that lack a preceding symbol are considered important but not essential.  For example, search for “+Chicago +coffee -starbucks” to make sure you see results for non-Starbucks coffee shops in Chicago. Running that search without the symbols would bring up a very different list of results.  Search for “dolphins -miami -football,” meanwhile, to look up the aquatic mammals without seeing any mention of the football team.

While we’re talking about symbols, don’t forget quotation marks.  Put these around a specific phrase you want to find. For example, if you want to look up the Walt Whitman poem “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer,” you don’t want articles about astronomers with hearing problems.  So put the title in quotation marks to ensure more specific results.

Search within websites

One of the most useful Google tricks to learn is the site-specific search: Just add “site:url” (replacing the “url” part with the relevant website) to the end of your search query to look on one particular site.

For example, let’s say you want to find what Popular Science has written about frogs.  Simply go to the Google homepage and search for “frogs site:popsci.com.”  The results will only include pages from the specified site, and Google will apply its usual weighting, so you’ll see the most relevant hits (based on factors like how many other sites link to a page, its timeliness, and so on) first. When you need to find something on a website, then this trick often works better than a site’s own built-in search option. Try combining it with the keyword manipulations we mentioned above to narrow down your results even further.

Google also lets you search within a top-level domain. Say you’re trying to look up technical scientific information—you’ll probably find more reliable results on a university or government website than you might see on a random blog. So add “site:.edu” to your search query to limit results to university websites.  Or if you want, say, NASA’s take on space information, add “site:.gov.”

Limit the time period

 

Google has been indexing the web for a long time now.  While that’s great for pulling up stuff from decades past, it also makes it more difficult for searchers to cut through the noise to find the exact site or page that they’re after. Searching within a specific time period can help with that.

After you’ve run a search on the main Google search engine, click Tools and then the Any time drop-down menu to limit the results to more recent hits.  This tweak is helpful for focusing on very recent stories.

On the other hand, if you want to look for archived news that has since been replaced by more current stories, then you might want to specify a date range.  Choose Custom range, and you get to specify a start and end date.

 Find Files

Discover PDFs, spreadsheets, and more.

Google’s search results mainly concentrate on webpages, but it also indexes publicly available files.  You can look for them using a “filetype:” command at the end of your normal query.

So looking for “report filetype:pdf” will return PDFs with “report” in the title.  Try “report filetype:xlsx” to do the same for Excel spreadsheets. This also lets you search for images, though Google already has a handy image search tool.

Remember, this will only work for publicly available documents and files uploaded to the web. You’re not going to suddenly come across some secret government files…or at least we hope not.

Advanced Search

These tricks are great for getting started, but if you really want to get specific, you should take advantage of Google’s more specialized search options. On any Google search results page, click Settings from the toolbar at the top, and then choose Advanced search. The subsequent page will give you a host of extra ways to focus your searches, from looking at a given region to finding images you have the right to reuse.

Some of the operators, such as specific phrases, will be familiar by now. But the extra region and language options can be helpful. By default, Google prioritizes hits from the country or continent where you’re currently located, so you should use these settings to get better results for the rest of the world.

The advanced search page is also worth visiting if you forget one of the tricks we’ve mentioned above, like searching on a certain site or excluding keywords—or doing both at the same time. Once you’ve typed in all your parameters, click Advanced Search to see what you can find.

Get personal

Want to sift through the emails and files you’ve stored in Gmail or Google Drive? You don’t have to visit those apps—Google will let you search through your personal accounts from the main search engine page. However, this will only work if whatever you’re looking for is in a Google app and you’re signed into your Google account. So don’t worry: Your emails won’t pop up when somebody else googles you from a strange computer.

For example, type “my flights” into the Google search box to see information on flights you’ve previously booked. “My trips” will reveal upcoming trips you’re taking. (Side note: Google will pull this data from your Gmail account, so if you didn’t receive a confirmation email, you won’t see trip information.) You can look through your Google Photos too—try searching “my photos of…” with the name of one of your contacts.

Recently, Google has been making personal searches a more prominent feature. You can find a dedicated Personal tab at the top of the results page, alongside the usual News, Images, and Videos ones. It’s a one-stop searching shop for all the stuff you’ve stored in Google’s various services.

Nield, David. “Six Google search tips to find anything faster” Popular Science June 2017

Posted in: Tech Tips for Business Owners

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‘Smishing’ Is Internet Scammers’ New Favorite Trick. Here’s How to Avoid It

Internet scam artists are moving beyond your email inbox and targeting your text messages instead. With this new scam, called “smishing,” scammers are trying to get you to send them your personal information that could help them access your bank account or other online profiles.  Here’s what you should know.

What are smishing scams?
“Smishing” scams are so named because they’re like a phishing email, except sent via SMS, the technology underlying the typical text message. They often prey on people’s panic or sense of urgency, according to Jason Hong, associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute. For example, one fraudulent message might appear to be a warning from your bank about an unauthorized charge.

“That’s one of the main ways they try to trick you,” says Hong. “There’s an urgency to the message. There’s something that needs your attention right now.”

How can you avoid smishing scams?
Hong says you should make sure to use different passwords for everything from your bank’s website and social media apps to your email account. Two-factor authentication and password managers like Dashlane and 1Password can also be useful. And in the hypothetical case outlined above, you should call you bank or credit card company directly to verify the alert, rather than clicking any links in suspicious text messages.

Unfortunately, there’s no foolproof way to block smishing messages entirely, says Steve Wicker, a computer engineering professor at Cornell University. Wicker says the best course of action is to be vigilant for suspicious text messages, just like you should watch out for strange emails. One tip: Look out for text messages from phone numbers that clearly appear fake or suspicious.

Another warning: Wicker says some scammers may be able to make their messages look like they’re coming from a person you know and trust. So if you get a weird message from a friend, it’s a good idea to call them back on the phone and check if they actually sent the text.

Why are scammers using smishing scams?
Scammers could have one of several motives, Hong says. They could be trying to steal a victim’s identity, to access their bank account, or to blackmail them into giving out personal or company secrets.

“That’s where the money is,” Hong added. “People are getting more suspicious of emails. Companies like Google and Yahoo are getting better at detecting fake accounts and shutting them down. So the next easiest thing for [a scammer] to do is to go to mobile.”

Is smishing a new phenomenon?
Smishing scams have been around since as early as 2008, but experts say they are becoming more prevalent. They’re also popping up on all sorts of messaging apps, not just simple text messages.

“This is impacting all systems in the mobile arena, it’s not just limited to one system,” says William Beer, who works on cybersecurity matters for professional services firm EY, previously known as Ernst & Young. “There’s never 100% security on any app, whether they be desktop or mobile.”

Segarra, Lisa Marie. “‘Smishing’ Is Internet Scammers’ New Favorite Trick. Here’s How to Avoid It” Fortune, Security July 2017

Posted in: Mobile Computing, Security

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