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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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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

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If You Have a Twitter Account, Change These Privacy Settings Now

Twitter is changing its privacy policy to give advertisers more information about you. Learn what settings you need to change to keep your data private.

Twitter announced it has updated its privacy policy “to further improve and personalize our services, connecting you with the stories, brands and organic content you care about most.” Of course, the way you get connected to such personalization is by allowing Twitter to share more information with advertisers about you and your browsing habits. The changes will go into effect on June 18. You’ll be opted into these changes, but Twitter has expanded privacy settings that give you greater control and let you stop Twitter from sharing your information.

What’s changing?

There are three big changes to Twitter’s privacy policy:

1. Web data stored longer

Twitter uses cookies to store information about you when you visit a site that has an embedded tweet or Twitter share button. Currently, it stores this information for 10 days but starting on June 18, it will keep this data for 30 days.

2. More data sharing

In addition to storing web data longer, Twitter is changing how it shares this data with its partners (read: advertisers). The wording is a bit vague but the changes certainly aren’t being made to share less of your data: “We’ve updated how we share non-personal, aggregated and device-level data, including through some select partnership agreements that allow the data to be linked to your name, email, or other personal information — but only when you give your consent to those partners.”

3. No more Do Not Track

Twitter is no longer supporting Do Not Track, which you could enable in most browsers to stop advertisers from tracking your browsing history. Twitter states that despite its early support “an industry-standard approach to Do Not Track did not materialize.”

Which privacy settings should I change?

The privacy policy changes don’t take effect until next month but you can opt out now using the Twitter app or website. To do so, head to your account page, open Settings and go to Settings and privacy > Privacy and safety > Personalization and data. At the top of this page is an option to disable all personalization and data settings; on the Twitter website, click the Disable all button, and on the mobile app, tap the toggle switch at the top. There are granular personalization controls below. I found that I needed to disable the Personalization and data setting on both the Web and the app, so be sure to check both.

Elliot, Matt. “If you have a Twitter account, change these privacy settings now” CNET May 2017

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Should You Use Facebook or Google to Log In to Other Sites?

We’re all used to seeing “Log in with Facebook” or “Log in with Google” at sites around the Internet — or less frequently, an offer to log in with Twitter, LinkedIn or Pinterest. It’s a common option at news sites like CNN.com and the UK’s Guardian newspaper, music streaming services such as Spotify and tens of thousands of other online retailers, apps and games.

Logging in with a main account whose credentials you easily remember saves you the trouble of going through yet another laborious account creation and memorizing dozens of passwords. It allows you to easily post about something you’ve just read or bought.

But what exactly are you signing up for?

Requesting your data

Logging in to a website using a service such as Facebook or Google allows the website to make a request for data about you. Facebook and LinkedIn have quite a lot of data available for request: your birthday, friends list, email address, employment, colleges attended, photos and information that your friends have posted about you (for example, tagged photos). Other services like Twitter don’t possess the same level of personal data about its users and aren’t able to turn over as much information.

The exact data that the website is requesting pops up in a window asking for permission. Saying yes to that request adds one more tiny bridge between the virtual islands of your online self.

This seemingly small agreement can carry larger repercussions. Linking two or more sites allows companies to collect more data, building an increasingly rounded profile about you. Allowing one account to have access to others means that if the least secure account is hacked, the rest could also be compromised.

Facebook and Google are by far the two most frequently used services for logging in to other sites. Facebook snared 62% of all social log-ins across the tens of thousands of sites that support it (as of the end of 2015); Google is used 24% of the time according to Gigya, a customer identity management company.

Social networks want to be a trusted source for verifying your identify. In fact, at the Facebook developers conference this year, the company announced a service called Delegated Account Recovery, which would let you use Facebook to verify your identity if you forget your password on an app or website.

Yet social networks don’t inherently have value as a trusted source of identity. Privacy is not the main concern of a social network; like any for-profit company, its focus is on monetizing its product.

We are the product. Take Facebook; according the eMarketer, Facebook is expected to generate $16.33 billion in net digital ad revenue in the U.S. market this year and Google is expected to generate $5.24 billion in display ads in the U.S.

What happens to your data

The data held by social platforms and service providers like Google covers your habits and preferences. Facebook Like buttons littered throughout the Internet bounce back data about products or articles you’ve liked, while the Facebook Open Graph platform for other sites comes with plug-ins that collect data such as which of your friends already use a particular website or what you do while on the site.

In response to privacy concerns, Facebook does allow you to log in to third-party apps without having to give permission to share personal details like your name, email, birthday and so forth. Make sure you sever the connection for apps you’re not longer using. You can do that by going to Facebook Settings (click on the down arrow next to the question mark in the upper right) and select Apps. On that page you can click on any app and see the information the app has access to and can change those access privileges.

Stokes, Natasha. “Should You Use Faceook or Google to Log In to Other Sites?” Techlicious May 2017

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Excellent Excel Shortcuts That Very Few People Know

It seems like every office job needs at least passable spreadsheet skills. And, in an increasingly competitive job market, passing isn’t enough anymore. People who regularly need the software to get their work done need to become power users. That means going beyond simple tricks on web apps like Google Sheets and on to advanced techniques in the best spreadsheet application out there: Microsoft Excel. There are so many things you can learn with Excel that it would take hours or days to learn and weeks to master. But, to start you off, here are some of the best of the best Excel shortcuts that will impress prospective and actual employers, both in the form of keyboard commands and practical advice for getting the most out of the Microsoft program.

1. Use shortcuts to quickly format values

Ever need to change the format of a number or, more to the point, a set of numbers? By using “Ctrl + Shift + !” you make the numbers in the selected cells display two decimal points. Meanwhile, “Ctrl + Shift + $” adds a dollar sign and “Ctrl + Shift + %” adds a percentage sign. Those tricks have the potential to save you a huge amount of time, if used effectively.

2. Generate random values with RAND

Sometimes when using a spreadsheet you need a random number to use as a sample, often when calculated odds and percentages. And I mean entirely random, which something you picked yourself wouldn’t be. By entering “RAND() a number between 0 and 1 which no one could guess will be generated. But be warned: new values are generated every time the workbook recalculates.

3. Jump from worksheet to worksheet

A simple one a lot of people don’t know. Go from one worksheet to another immediately with either the command “Ctrl + PgDn” or the command “Ctrl + PgUp”.

4. Double click to copy down

Instead of holding and dragging the mouse down to copy a formula or value for your data set, you can just double click the box at the bottom right-hand corner of the cell.

5. Lock cells with F4

There are some numbers that you always need to stay the same, no matter what else changes with your spreadsheet. To make sure those key values aren’t accidentally changed, click on the cells you want to remain constant and hit the F4 key. If you continue hitting F4 you’ll get more options. Those are locking the cell, locking the row number, locking the collar column letter, and removing the lock.

6. Don’t overly obsess over Excel shortcuts

The last of the Excel shortcuts is, ironically enough, to stop using so many shortcuts. Keyboard shortcuts, specifically. They can be great timesavers, for sure, but it’s common for an Excel user to want to execute a specific action but not know the shortcut for it. They’ll then waste a substantial amount of time searching for how to do it on the internet when their time would probably be better served doing it the old-fashioned way, cell by cell. If you search for a random Excel shortcut in the middle of working on a sheet, there’s no way you’re going to remember it the next time the opportunity comes up to make use of it. The better strategy is to dedicate some time to a manual or article like this one that spotlights keyboard shortcuts. By testing out the Excel shortcuts as you read about them, they’re more likely to stick in your brain then when you’re doing a one-off action. A popular problem with life hacks is to spend so much time life hacking that you actual waste it overall. Don’t let that happen to you.

O’Keefe, Matt. “Excellent Excel Shortcuts That Very Few People Know” Lifehack June 2017

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How to quickly scan a document to your Dropbox account with Android

For a while now, iOS devices have had the ability to scan files directly to their associated Dropbox cloud accounts. This means you could point your mobile device to a receipt, a file, a whiteboard, or whatever it is you need to get quickly scanned and uploaded and save it directly to your Dropbox account. The new feature is incredibly useful and makes working on the go even more efficient. Snap a shot of whatever it is you need to quickly upload and then save it, as either a .pdf or .jpg file, to your Dropbox account. This is far more efficient than snapping a photo of something and then manually uploading (or sharing) the photo to your cloud account.

The one caveat to this feature is that it is not optical character recognition (OCR). This snaps a photo of the subject and then saves it as either a .pdf or .jpg file (your choice). From within your Dropbox account, you can share and/or comment on the file (for collaboration purposes). Even without OCR capabilities, the feature adds something the Android Dropbox mobile client has needed for some time.

Let’s see how this new scanning feature is used. The only requirement is that you have the latest release of Dropbox on your Android device (and be signed into your Dropbox account).

Scanning an image

The first thing you must have is an image to scan. The included scanner does a great job of capturing just about anything (with the one exception being computer screens). With your subject in hand (or on desk or wall, as it were), open up the Dropbox app and tap the + button. From the resulting menu (Figure A), tap Scan document.

If this is the first time you’ve attempted to scan a document into Dropbox, you will be asked to allow the app access to the camera and your files. Do this, or the scanning will not work. Once you tap Scan document, the scanner will open. Center the screen on the subject and hold the device still (it’s quite sensitive). You will see a blue square hop about the screen (Figure B), attempting to focus on the area to be scanned.

Once the blue lines are square (this is important as it can affect the perspective, and hence the legibility, of the final image), tap the camera button to snap the image. Once the image is captured, you can adjust, rotate, or arrange the image or add a new page to the scan (Figure C).

I highly recommend (at least) tapping the Adjust button and then, in the resulting window (Figure D), adjusting the area to be saved for the scan, as well as change the color to Whiteboard (as it seems to result in the clearest scans).

Once the scan meets your needs, tap the checkmark. Back in the Scan preview window, tap the right-pointing arrow, give the scan a name, select the file type (Figure E), select the subfolder (optional) to hold the file, and tap the checkmark.

That’s it. The scan will now appear in your Dropbox account. You can share it for collaboration or work with it later.

Mobility made easier

Your mobile office just got a bit more efficient. With the likes of Dropbox, mobility is getting easier and easier to manage with your cloud account. Although this new (to Android) scanning feature doesn’t include OCR, it’s still a very welcome addition.

Wallen, Jack. “How to quickly scan a document to your Dropbox account with Android” TechRepublic May 2017

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Organize Your Microsoft Outlook Email

How can you clear up the clutter in your Outlook email folders? Here are some tips and tricks.

Are your Microsoft Outlook email folders overflowing with hundreds or thousands of unorganized messages? Are you unsure what to do with a new email when it arrives, thereby cluttering up your inbox? That’s a common malady, but one for which there is a remedy, or rather several remedies. By following some helpful tips and tricks, you can make your Outlook inbox much more manageable.

In this article, we’ll review the following skills:

  • You can create Quick Steps that can put new email in the right folders at the click of a button.
  • You can create rules that determine what happens with a new email based on subject line, sender, and other criteria.
  • You can clean up a conversation thread so that extraneous and redundant messages are deleted or moved.
  • You can archive your older messages so they’re forgotten but not gone.

Let’s look at each of the tips and tricks to see how you can better organize your mail in Microsoft Outlook.

A Quick Note: When I say Microsoft Outlook, I’m talking about the full email client that’s part of Microsoft Office, not the online Outlook.com email service. Also, I’m using Outlook 2016 through the article, but the tips will work in Outlook 2013 and Outlook 2010 as well.

 

How To Create Quick Steps

Quick Steps enable you to easily file emails in certain folders and perform other actions by simply clicking on a button. I use Quick Steps to send new emails that I’ve read to specific work folders and personal folders so they don’t clutter up my inbox. Here’s how to create a Quick Step.

At the top of your Outlook screen, make sure the Home toolbar is selected. You should see the Quick Steps group in the middle of the toolbar. Some Quick Steps are already built into Outlook, and you may find those useful. But let’s say we want to create a Quick Step that moves all email for your Netflix subscription into a folder called Netflix. Click on the Create New command in the Quick Steps section. Name it and then select an action, such as moving the message to the Netflix folder. Click on the Add Action button.

You’ll see the new step you just created in the Quick Step section. Now click on an email from Netflix and then click on the new Quick Step. Your email is transported to the Netflix folder. You can create multiple Quick Steps for different messages and tasks to make it easier to file new messages.

How to Create Rules

Rules place your email messages into the right folders but before you actually read them. As such, rules may be useful for organizing messages that you plan to read at a later day and don’t want them crowding your inbox in the meantime.

Let’s use the same Netflix example. Let’s say you don’t need to read the Netflix messages hitting your inbox and want to place them in the correct folder right off the bat. Click on one of the messages from Netflix. Then click on the down arrow under the Rules button on the Home toolbar and click on the command to Create Rule. In the Create Rule window, click on the checkmark for the Sender’s address. The click on the checkmark for the “Move the item to folder” command and select the Netflix folder. Click OK. Now any message you receive from that address will automatically be placed in the Netflix folder. You can create additional rules to file away other types of messages.

How to Clean Up a Conversation Thread

You probably get into long conversation threads sometimes where all the previous emails in the thread are quoted in each new message. That can result in plenty of messages with duplicate and redundant information. You can tell Outlook to clean up such a conversation thread, removing the older and unnecessary messages and leaving you with the latest version quoting the entire thread.

To give this a shot, click on an email that’s part of a conversation thread. In the Delete group on the Home toolbar, click on the button for Clean up and then click on the command to Clean Up Conversation.

A message pops up telling you that “All redundant messages in this conversation will be moved to the ‘Deleted Items’ folder.” Click on the Settings button on the message if you wish to tweak the options for this feature.

At the Clean Up Conversation section in the Outlook Options window, you can change the folder to which the redundant messages are sent. You can tell Outlook not to move unread, categorized, and flagged messages. Click OK to close the Options window. Then click the Clean Up button on the “Clean Up Conversation” message. Outlook will tell you if any messages were moved. You can then open the Deleted Items folder to review your redundant messages.

How to Archive Older Messages

Do you have messages that are many years old? If so, do you ever still read them? If not, but you don’t want to delete them, you can archive them. An archive is a separate PST file, or Outlook Data File (a file that stores your messages and other content). By placing such messages in an archive file, they’re removed from your current Outlook folders but still available in the archive should you ever need to refer to them.

You can tell Outlook to automatically and periodically archive older messages, or you can manually send messages to an archive. To automatically have older messages archived, click on the File menu and then select Options. Click on the Advanced category. Under AutoArchive, click on AutoArchive Settings.

Click on the checkmark to Run AutoArchive if it’s not already checked. Select how often AutoArchive should run by setting the number of days. Click on any of the other options you wish to enable. Then make sure the option to “Move old items to” is set for a specific archive file in the folder where you store your main Outlook PST file. This should automatically be selected for you, but you’ll still want to double check. Click OK to close this window.

Manually archiving older messages creates a folder called Archive in your current mailbox. This way, the messages don’t crowd your other folders but are easily accessible. To manually archive message, select the message you wish to archive. Right-click on them and select Archive from the popup menu.

Outlook asks if you want it to create an archive folder or use an existing folder. Select the option to create an archive folder. Outlook creates a folder called Archive and moves your selected messages to it. In the future, you can select messages, click on the Archive command, and those messages will be moved to the Archive folder.

Whitney, Lance. “Organize Your Microsoft Outlook Email” Windows Secrets May 2017

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