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What To Do When Your Email Gets Hacked

This month, it was confirmed that every single Yahoo account was compromised in the 2013 data breach. That’s 3 billion accounts. Data stolen included names, email addresses, phone numbers and birth dates, among other information. And, of course, that’s just one in a series of recent massive security breaches. The odds are that if you haven’t already been hacked, you will be.

If your email account has been hacked, would you know what to do? Changing your password isn’t good enough. You’ll also want to make sure the hacker hasn’t set up your account to let him get back in or to keep spamming, even after he’s locked out. Here’s what you need to do to get everything back in order and keep hackers out of your account for good.

Step #1: Change your password

The very first thing you should do is keep the hacker from getting back into your email account. Change your password to a strong password that is not related to your prior password; if your last password was billyjoe1, don’t pick billyjoe2—and if your name is actually BillyJoe, you shouldn’t have been using your name as your password in the first place.

Try using a meaningful sentence as the basis of your new password. For example, “I go to the gym in the morning” turns into “Ig2tGYMitm” using the first letter of each word in the sentence, mixing uppercase and lowercase letters and replacing the word “to” with “2.”

Step #2: Reclaim your account

If you’re lucky, the hacker only logged into your account to send a mass email to all of your contacts.

If you’re not so lucky, the hacker changed your password too, locking you out of your account. If that’s the case, you’ll need to reclaim your account, which is usually a matter of using the “forgot your password” link and answering your security questions or using your backup email address.

Check out the specific recommendations for reclaiming possession of your account for Gmail, Outlook.com and Hotmail, and AOL.

Step #3: Enable two-factor authentication

Set your email account to require a second form of authentication in addition to your password whenever you log into your email account from a new device. When you log in, you’ll also need to enter a special one-time use code the site will text to your phone or generated via an app.

Check out two-step authentication setup instructions for Gmail, Microsoft’s Outlook.com and Hotmail, and AOL.

Step #4: Check your email settings

Sometimes hackers might change your settings to forward a copy of every email you receive to themselves so that they can watch for any emails containing login information for other sites. Check your mail forwarding settings to ensure no unexpected email addresses have been added.

Next, check your email signature to see if the hacker added a spammy signature that will continue to peddle their dubious wares even after they’ve been locked out.

Check your “reply to” email address. Sometimes hackers will change your “reply to” email address to one they’ve created that looks similar to yours. So when someone replies to your email, it goes to the hacker’s account, not yours.

Last, check to make sure the hackers haven’t turned on an auto-responder, turning your out-of-office notification into a spam machine.

Step #5: Scan your computer for malware

Run a full scan with your anti-malware program. You do have an anti-malware program on your computer, right? If not, download the free version of Malwarebytes and run a full scan with it. I recommend running Malwarebytes even if you already have another anti-malware program; if the problem is malware, your original program obviously didn’t stop it, and Malwarebytes has resolved problems for me that other anti-malware software wasn’t able to resolve. Scan other computers you log in from, such as your work computer, as well.

If any of your scans detect malware, fix it and then go back and change your email password again (because when you changed it in step #1, the malware was still on your computer).

Step #6: Find out what else has been compromised

My mother-in-law once followed the ill-advised practice of storing usernames and passwords for her various accounts in an email folder called “Sign-ups.” Once the hacker was into her email, he easily discovered numerous other logins.

Most of us have emails buried somewhere that contain this type of information. Search for the word “password” in your mailbox to figure out what other accounts might have been compromised. Change these passwords immediately; if they include critical accounts such as bank or credit card accounts, check your statements to make sure there are no suspicious transactions.

It’s also a good idea to change any other accounts that use the same username and password as your compromised email. Spammers are savvy enough to know that most people reuse passwords for multiple accounts, so they may try your login info in other email applications and on PayPal and other common sites.

Step #7: Humbly beg for forgiveness from your friends

Let the folks in your contacts list know that your email was hacked and that they should not open any suspicious emails or click on any links in any email(s) that recently received from you. Most people will probably have already figured out that you were not the one recommending they buy Viagra from an online pharmacy in India—but you know, everyone has one or two friends who are a little slower to pick up on these things.

Step #8: Prevent it from happening again

While large-scale breaches are one way your login information could be stolen, many cases are due to careless creation or protection of login information.

A look at Splash Data’s worst passwords reveals people still choose common passwords and passwords based on readily available information, making their accounts hackable with a few educated guesses. Easy passwords make for easy hacking, and spammers use programs that can cycle through thousands of logins a second to identify weak accounts.

Picking a strong password is your best protection from this type of hacking. It also is prudent to use a different password for each site or account, or, at the very least, use a unique password for your email account, your bank account, and any other sensitive accounts. If you’re concerned about keeping track of your passwords, find a password management program to do the work for you.

Limit the amount of personal information you share publicly on social media. Hackers use this publicly available personal information to help answer security questions that protect your accounts.

Bookmark websites that you frequently use to access personal information or input credit card information. This will prevent you from accidentally landing on a site that hackers set up to catch people mistyping the site address.

In a friend’s case, her passwords were pretty good and there was no malware on her computer. But she was careless about where she was logging in. On a recent trip overseas, she used the computer in her hotel lobby to check her email. That was a bad idea.

Computers in hotel lobbies, libraries, and other public places are perfect locations for hackers to install key-logging programs. The computers are often poorly secured and get used by dozens of people every day who don’t think twice about logging into their email or bank accounts or entering credit card information to make a purchase. The best practice is to assume that any public computer is compromised and proceed accordingly.

Kantra, Suzanne. “What To Do When Your Email Gets Hacked,” Techlicious, Computers & Software, 10/23/2017

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How to Maintain a Calendar in Microsoft Outlook

Here’s how you can set up and work with one or more calendars in Outlook.

You use Microsoft Outlook for your email. But do you also use it for its calendar? Perhaps you do, perhaps you don’t. Either way, you can take full advantage of the calendar feature in Outlook to manage your scheduled appointments and events. You can add an event to the calendar and share it with other people. You can invite people to meetings and other events. You can juggle more than one calendar. You can share your calendar with others. And you can tweak your Calendar settings. Let’s look at the process for creating and maintaining calendars in Outlook.

For this article, I’m using Outlook 2016 via my Office 365 subscription, but the process works virtually the same in the prior few versions of Outlook.

Launch Outlook. Click on the calendar icon at the bottom of the pane to switch to calendar view. You can now manually add an event.

Double-click on the date for your event. In the Event window, enter the details for the event, including the subject, location, date and time, and any notes you wish to record. When done, click on the Save & Close button.

Back in calendar view, your event shows up on the date you chose. Now you want to share that event with another person. Double-click the event to open it. In the Event window, click on the Forward button to open an email with the event as an attachment. Address and send the email. Your recipient can open the attached event to view it. With the right email software, that person can also click on the button to Copy to My Calendar to add the event to his or her own calendar.

Now you want to create an event for which you’re inviting another person or multiple people. In calendar view, double-click the date for the event. Enter the appropriate details. Click on the button to Invite Attendees. An email window pops up. In the To field, type the names or email addresses of the people you want to invite to the event. If the other people have shared their Outlook calendars with you, you can click on the Scheduling button to see if they’re free for the event. Click on the Response Options buttons. By default, your invitation requires a response from the other people and allows them to suggest a different time if they’re busy during the date and time you proposed. You can keep these options or turn off either one.

Click on the Appointment button and then click on the Send button to send the invitation. In return, you should receive emails from the other people either confirming their participation in the event or suggesting an alternative date or time.

Need more than one calendar? Perhaps you want to maintain one calendar for your personal events and another calendar for your professional or work-related events. For example, I have one calendar for personal use and another calendar for meetings with a business client. To create another calendar in calendar view, click on the Open Calendarbutton and then click on the option to Create New Blank Calendar. In the Create New Folder field, make sure Calendar is the selected folder. Type a name for the new calendar and then click OK. You should see your original calendar and the new calendar listed in the left pane under My Calendars. To view your new calendar, click on its checkmark. Both calendars now appear side-by-side. You can manage either calendar by right-clicking its entry in the left pane. From the popup menu for the original, you can hide it, change its color, or copy it. For the new calendar, you can also rename it or delete it.

Next, you can work with shared calendars. You can share a calendar with another person or several people via email. Click on the E-Mail Calendar button. Select the calendar you wish to share if you have more than one. Select the date range, anywhere from today to the whole calendar. Set any other options and then click OK.

Your calendar is attached to your email as an iCalendar file with an extension of ICS. Address and send the email to the other person or people. Your calendar appears in the body of the email for your recipients to view. They can also click on the ICS file or click on the Open this Calendar button in the email to add your calendar to their own calendar view.

If you use an Office 365 or Exchange account on the backend, you can send a sharing invitation to other people using the same server so they can view your calendar. To do this, click on the calendar you wish to share in the My Calendars list. Click on the Share Calendar button. In the Sharing Invitation email, add the names or email addresses of the recipients and then send your message. Click Yes when asked if you want to share this calendar. Your recipients can access your calendar by clicking on the Open this Calendar button in the email. The calendar then shows up in their calendar view under Shared Calendars.

You can also publish a calendar online, though that option requires WebDAV, something you would to access on a computer with Microsoft’s Internet Information Services (IIS). Click on the Publish Online button and choose the option to Publish to WebDAV server. Type the address for the server in the Location field and then click OK.

Finally, you can tweak your calendar through the Outlook Options menu. Click on the File menu and then click on Options. In the Outlook Options menu, click on the setting for Calendar.

In the first section for Work time, you can set the hours and days of the week that you want to appear in your calendar. In the second section for Calendar options, you can establish the time for reminders, add holidays to your calendar, and tweak other options. In the third section for Display options, you can select the colors and layout for your calendar.

In the fourth section for Time zones, you can choose your primary and secondary time zones. In the fifth section for Scheduling assistant, you can decide where to see calendar details. In the sixth section for Automatically accept or decline, you can choose to automatically accept or decline meeting invitations. And in the seventh section for Weather, you can opt to show or not show weather on your calendar.

Whitney, Lance. “How to Maintain a Calendar in Microsoft Outlook.” Windows Secrets, Office, October 10, 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.

When traveling, using Wi-Fi connections instead of data and calling plans can save travelers hundreds of dollars. Relying on public Wi-Fi is sometimes a security risk but there are ways to make sure your personal information is safe.

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 NordVPN, Private 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 the 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 the fingerprint.”

McKee, Jennifer. “How to Use Public Wi-Fi and Not Get Hacked” WhereTraveler.com August 23, 2017

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Eight ways Word’s built-in styles can save you a ton of time

Word’s built-in styles are integrated into many useful features, like footnotes, numbered lists, and header and footer text. Here’s a quick look at how to use these styles to save time.

Word installs nearly 300 styles that are built in and ready to use, but there’s nothing wrong with creating your own custom styles—especially for paragraph and character formatting. Still, it’s important to keep in mind that many of Word’s features rely on its built-in styles. Knowing when to use built-ins and when it’s okay to customize will make your work a lot easier. Even if you never use a custom style, knowing how to manipulate the built-ins will help.

1: They’re easy to use

Every Word document makes use of styles, whether you recognize them or not. Just typing text uses Word’s built-in Normal style. A style is a set of formats. By applying styles, you can quickly and consistently format your documents. You can build your own styles or use the built-in styles. Because the built-in styles already exist, of course, they’re easier to use. Most organizations don’t have specific conventions for ordinary word processing needs, so make things easy on yourself and use the built-in styles, unless you have a specific reason not to—and I can think of lots of reasons not to make more work for myself.

If the built-in styles don’t suit your needs but you want to take advantage of their feature-linking behaviors, create a template and modify the built-ins. It’s the best of both worlds.

2: You gain stability and consistency

You can’t delete Word’s built-in heading styles. That means you can’t accidentally destroy your document’s style hierarchy by deleting a style that’s in use—even though you didn’t realize it. In addition, your documents are consistent from one file to another. That means more professional documents and easier sharing.

3: Building a table of contents is a snap

You can use any style to generate a TOC, but using Word’s built-in styles reduces the work because it’s automatic. The heading styles are the defaults; use them for chapter and heading titles and your TOC will literally write itself. Once the document is complete, with built-in heading styles applied, you can generate your TOC as follows:

  1. Position the cursor where you want to insert the TOC.
  2. Click the References tab.
  3. Click Table Of Contents in the Table Of Contents group and choose an option from the gallery (Figure A).
Figure A

Word’s built-in TOC options are adequate for most uses

4: Navigation is more efficient

Most documents comprise a single page or only a few pages, and navigating is as easy as clicking, using the scroll bar, or using PageUp and PageDown. However, these tools aren’t adequate for browsing large documents. For that, Word provides the Navigation Pane (Document Map in older Ribbon versions). To view the pane, click the View tab and then check Navigation Pane in the Show group. Figure B shows this pane with a simple document, but you can easily imagine its worth in a long document. Simply click the headers in the pane to quickly access that section of your document. This feature works only with built-in heading styles.

Figure B

Use the Navigation Pane to access sections in large documents.

5: You can work in Outline View

Outline View also relies on built-in heading styles. It’s similar to the Navigation Pane, but it displays and supports a true outline format, as shown in Figure C. Whereas the Navigation Pane is a useful tool for accessing areas of your document, Outline View allows you to promote and demote headings to specific levels, so evaluating and even restructuring your document is easier.

Figure C

Use Outline View to organize a document.

6: Print Layout is more flexible

As with the Navigation Pane and Outline View, you can collapse entire sections in Print Layout view. After applying a built-in heading style, Word displays a small arrow in the left margin. Hover the mouse to the left of the formatted heading to display it (Figure D). Then, click it to make that entire section disappear (and reappear).

Figure D
Use collapsible headers in Print Layout.

7: Cross-references are easy to set up

Cross-references are simple to generate in Word if you use built-in heading styles. Once you apply a heading style, that heading is immediately available for cross-referencing, as you can see in Figure E. Word doesn’t include text styles with custom styles. When using custom styles, you must bookmark the headings—and if you’ve worked with bookmarks before, you know they can be messy and frustrating. (Word’s hyperlinking feature behaves similarly.)

Figure E

Built-in heading styles mark headings for inclusion in cross-referencing.

8: Updating page numbers and captions is automatic

Word offers numerous ways to insert page numbers and captions. When you use these features, Word applies built-in styles: Page Number and Caption, accordingly. To quickly update all page numbers or captions, simply change the built-in style.

Bottom line

Many features use built-ins styles, and you won’t always realize they’re in use. Anytime you need to modify all instances of a feature-based element, such as footnotes, endnotes, bulleted and numbered lists, and header and footer text, look for a built-in style to modify. Their names are descriptive, so they’re easy to find.

Harkins, Susan. “Eight ways Word’s built-in styles can save you a ton of time” Tech Republic, Microsoft October 30, 2017

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Windows 10 Tip: Five ways to personalize notifications on your PC

Did you know you can easily personalize what notifications you get on your Windows 10 PC and how they show up, so you can focus on the ones most important to you?

To get started, head to Settings > System > Notifications & actions‌.

First, send notifications, reminders and alarms directly to the action center by right-clicking action center in your taskbar, then selecting Turn on quiet hours.

Stop notifications from showing during a presentation by turning on Hide notifications when I’m duplicating my screen. Or, keep them from showing on your lock screen when you’re not logged in by turning off Show notifications on the lock screen.

If you’re tired of seeing notifications from a particular app, turn them off next to the app under Get notifications from these senders – or, click on the app for more options.

You also always have the option to stop getting notifications on your PC by turning off Get notifications from apps and other senders.

Pidgeon, Elana. “Windows 10 Tip: Five ways to personalize notifications on your PC” Windows Blogs August 2017

Posted in: MS Office Tips and Tricks, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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Microsoft Excel: Why your spreadsheet is so slow

How to deal with “Out of Memory,” “Not Enough System Resources,” and more.

When your Microsoft Excel spreadsheet slows to a crawl, you can’t help but notice. It may take longer to open and save your files, longer for Excel to calculate your formulas, and longer for the screen to refresh after entering data, or sorting and formatting the cells.  System memory is the other issue that relates to Excel’s slowness.

Slow spreadsheets take longer to manage and, as always, time is money. We’ll show you how to tackle this problem.

When Excel spreadsheets get too big

Excel is capable of creating a very big spreadsheet, but the bigger it gets, the more memory is needed to keep it open on your PC.

In the current version of Excel, each spreadsheet has 1,048,576 rows and 16,384 columns (A1 through XFD1048576). Each cell can hold a maximum of 32,767 characters. I would not advise pushing these limits.

The number of records (rows), fields (columns), and formulas can slow down performance considerably. Every time you add new records, then press the Enter key—or use features such as Sort, Format cells, or Insert/Delete Columns or Rows—Excel recalculates all those formulas. This can cause a lag time of several seconds or more between each process. Using a lot of graphical elements can also hinder performance.

One solution, and one that I highly recommend, is to keep your spreadsheets small and tight, with fewer fields and, if necessary, fewer records. You can accomplish this by creating multiple spreadsheets in a single workbook, with links or three-dimensional formulas. You could also create Relational Database spreadsheets that connect your tables with unique, key fields.

Turn on Manual Calculation and use F9

Another solution is to turn off the Automatic Workbook Calculation option, instead using the Function key F9. When Manual Calculation is selected in the Calculation Options, Excel withholds calculating your formulas until you press F9.

1. Select File > Options > Formulas.

2. In the first section: Calculation Options under Workbook Calculation, click the Manual button.

3. Check the Recalculate Workbook Before Saving box if you want to ensure that the spreadsheet calculation is always current. Or uncheck this box if you plan to calculate the spreadsheet manually using the F9 key before exiting.

4. When finished, click OK.

Excel memory limits

Users constantly ask me: Why does my spreadsheet say “Excel cannot complete this task with available resources. Choose less data or close other applications?” Similar errors include “Not enough System Resources to Display Completely,” or “There isn’t enough memory to complete this action. Try using less data or closing other applications,” or just “Out of Memory.”

Although memory does not affect Excel’s calculation or manipulation speed, the size of your database (number of columns and rows used) is affected by the amount of available RAM in your system. Remember, just because your computer has 8GB of RAM, that doesn’t mean you have that much available to work with.

Excel has its own memory manager and memory limits. The 32-bit version has a limit of 2GB of virtual memory, while the 64-bit version offers up to 8TB of virtual memory. Contrary to some rumors, those numbers include the software itself, plus any add-in programs you have installed.

And that’s just in Excel. Other demands on your system’s memory include the OS, all the other applications that are currently open on your computer, plus a dozen other hidden processes such as DLLs, drivers, and a long list of .exe (executables) that are running in resident memory and/or in the background. Graphics, charts, formulas, and features such as the spell checker, sorting, and printing also consume memory.

For the many users still working with the 32-bit version of Excel, if your spreadsheets are less than 2GB and you’re still receiving memory error messages, try closing all other programs that are running (including the Internet and your email program) to gain additional working memory.

When it’s time to move from 32-bit to 64-bit Excel

If the performance and memory tips above both fail to increase your system’s performance or reduce the number of memory errors, then maybe it’s time to switch to the 64-bit version of Excel. This version does not limit your file sizes, but instead enforces limits only by available memory and system resources. This means if your system has 8GB of memory, Excel can access all of that minus whatever the system uses.

If you’re considering a change from Excel 32-bit to Excel 64-bit, here’s what to keep in mind:

1. Check out the Large Address Aware update. Microsoft rolled out this patch in June 2016, for 2013 and 2016 Excel versions. This update alters the 2GB limit on address space to 4GB when installed for the 32-bit version of Excel in the 64-bit version of Windows. For 32-bit Excel running in 32-bit Windows, the 2GB address space limit is increased to 3GB.

2. Other files are affected when you install this update: For example, for 32-bit Excel with 32-bit Windows, you must make a change in your boot file. Be sure to read Microsoft’s documentation on the Large Address Aware update before you install anything or make any changes.

3. 64-bit Office only works with 64-bit Windows. You cannot run the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Office on the same computer. If you attempt this, Microsoft displays an error message.

4. If you want to upgrade from your 32-bit version to the 64-bit version, you must uninstall and then re-install Office. The reverse is also true.

32-bit vs. 64-bit Excel: Features you’ll lose

Despite the performance beneifts of 64-bit Office, Microsoft actually recommends the 32-bit version of Office for most users, because of its greater compatibility with other applications (particularly third-party add-ins). Also, some of Office’s application features are not supported in the 64-bit OS, such as:

1. The legacy versions of Equation Editor and Equation Builder are not supported

2. The Word Add-in libraries are also not supported (many dozens available online for free or for a minimal cost).

3. Some ActiveX controls and some VBA codes are not compatible.

4. Some database files in Microsoft Access have source code issues.

5. Outlook MAPI applications must be recreated, and

6. The Graphics Device Interface (GDI) rendering may have performance issues due to incompatibilities between the 32-bit and 64-bit devices.

Sartain.JD. “Microsoft Excel: Why your spreadsheet is so slow” PCWorld September 2017

Posted in: MS Office Tips and Tricks, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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6 Easy Opt-Outs to Protect Your Privacy

How to shrink your exposure to telemarketers, bulky catalogs, and online data mining

Marketers want your personal data and they’re willing to work hard to get it. The result can be a barrage of unsolicited mail, telemarketing calls, and pop-up ads.

You can cut down on those offers by signing up with the Do Not Call Registry and other services, some set up by industry groups. The World Privacy Forum’s Top 10 Opt Outs is a comprehensive resource of websites and organizations that help consumers reduce the amount of marketing material coming their way.

But you can also accomplish a lot, more quickly, with the whittled-down data-collection cleanse outlined below.

Not all of the online forms you’ll be accessing are equally simple to navigate. Follow these tips for cutting through the clutter and the whole six-step exercise can take under 10 minutes to complete. (I got it down to 9 minutes, 8 seconds.) That’s less time than it takes to do the dishes, and it will help make your inbox equally sparkly and clean.

Let’s start with pesky telemarketing calls.

1. National Do Not Call Registry

You know those annoying calls from “Heather at account services?” The National Do Not Call Registry helps you prevent such unsolicited intrusions from telemarketers.

Where to go: The FTC’s National Do Not Call Registry provides one-stop shopping for telemarketer opt-outs.

How it works: Once you get to the Registry you’re given two options: 1) to register or 2) to check to see if you’re registered. The straightforward form allows you to provide up to three lines, I registered my cell, my home landline, and my office line in just seconds.

What you’ll need: You have to provide a valid e-mail address to receive confirmation e-mails—one for each phone number you register—those confirmations arrived in my inbox almost instantly. When I clicked on the link in each e-mail, I was done.

2. Prescreened Credit Offers

Is your mailbox filled with “pre-approved” credit card offers? Lenders send out those solicitations after buying lists of potential borrowers from major credit reporting firms such as Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can stop that cycle at the source. (This Federal Trade Commission FAQ page explains pre-screened credit.)

Where to go: The Consumer Credit Reporting Industry website, or call 888-567-8688.

How it works: The online form lets you opt out for five years. If you want to opt out permanently, you need to print out, fill out, and mail back an old-school paper form. Maddeningly, to get access to the paper form you first need to fill out another form online. You might want to do the quick-and-easy online opt-out first, and then go back and do the paperwork for the permanent opt-opt later.

What you’ll need: Your Social Security number. I’ll admit I felt a little uncomfortable entering my SSN, but the reality is that if you’re getting these offers, the credit reporting agencies have this information anyway.

How long it took: 1 minute, 24 seconds (not including the time to fill out and mail the permanent opt-out form).

3. DMA Choice

I like the fall Pottery Barn catalog as much as the next guy—until I have to carry 20 pounds of mixed paper to the curb on recycling day. The opt-out program set up by the Data & Marketing Association won’t solve that problem completely, but it will reduce the volume of mail coming in.

Where to go: Head to DMA Choice.

How it works: This is a two-stage process. First, you register with DMA, providing an e-mail, password, and credit card information, including your zip code. Once you’re logged in, you get steered to a menu with three options. Clicking on the Catalogs/Magazines/Other Mail Offers link opens a daunting alphabetical list of companies. Ignore it. Head instead to Stop All Catalogs and click on Remove My Name. The site will ask you if you’re sure, at which point you click on Yes, Take Me Off and confirm your address.

What you’ll need: A credit card. You have to pay $2 for the online opt-out and $3 if you mail in the form. There are free opt-outs for caregivers and those with a deceased relative.

How long it took: 3 minutes, 12 seconds (including the time spent entering my credit card information to pay the small fee).

4. FERPA

Public school enrollment information about your children doesn’t have to be public. FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, gives parents and students the right keep a range of directory-style information private, such as the student’s address, place of birth, and dates of attendance at the school. The catch is, you have to request this.

Where to go: Since the FERPA opt-out procedure is district-specific, there’s no national online clearing house. You need to request a form from your local school district or print out the generic one on the WPF website, which you can then submit to local officials.

How it works: The WPF form is reasonably straightforward. You enter a little info about your student, along with your opt-out preferences. Many school districts only accept FERPA opt-outs at the beginning of the school year, so don’t delay.

What you’ll need: The forms vary somewhat, but there’s a good chance you’ll need to provide a student ID number.

How long it took: 40 seconds (not including the time to fill out the printed form and return it to the school).

5. Banks and Other Financial Institutions

The information collected and distributed by banks varies widely. Since that information can include very sensitive information such as account balances, it’s worthwhile to take the time to protect it.

Where to go: The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation explains your rights and opt-out options, but does not provide a universal opt-out for financial institutions. The WPF site, however, includes an opt-out list for many large institutions, including Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo, and Citibank (1-888-214-0017)

How it works: I bank at Chase. So using the link above, I entered my account information and checked off all the options provided, instructing the bank not to share information about my creditworthiness or other personal information with affiliates and third parties for marketing purposes.

What you’ll need: Your account number and your Social Security number. If you have multiple accounts, you only need to enter the info for one. Don’t forget about your mortgage and investment accounts.

How long it took: 52 seconds.

6. Data Brokers

Data brokers are clearing houses for much of the information that’s gathered about you online and used by marketers. Most don’t have easy opt-outs. But Acxiom, one of the biggest data brokers, is an exception.

Where to go: Acxiom’s website includes an opt-out page.

How it works: I checked Acxiom’s About the Data site, and discovered that the company knows quite a lot about me, ranging from my family status to my income and political affiliations. Some of the information was surprisingly accurate, while other parts were flat-out wrong. You can, however, skip this step and go straight to the opt-out form.

What you’ll need: A little advance research. You’ll want to register your name, but also common misspellings, any maiden name, names from previous marriages, addresses dating back as far as you can recall, and all of your e-mail addresses.

How long it took: 1 minute, 30 seconds. The form itself is quite simple to use, but the dropdown menus slow things down a bit, as does the CAPTCHA confirmation that you’re a human, not a robot.

St. John, Allen. “6 Easy Opt-Outs to Protect Your Privacy” Consumer Reports September 2017

Posted in: Security, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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Try These Top Add-Ins for Microsoft Word

You can beef up Microsoft Word with the right add-ins.

Microsoft Word packs a lot of features and functionality into one single application. But there’s always room for more. Perhaps you wish Word included a built-in dictation feature that converted your speech into text. Or maybe you’d like a Word feature that reads your documents aloud to you. Or perhaps you’d like a built-in translator that can translate your text from one language to another. Well, Word may not include these items, but you can tap into them by installing an add-in. Add-ins provide greater functionality and flexibility to an Office application so you can do so much more with the program.

You’ll find an array of Word add-ins through Microsoft’s online Office Store, but I’m going to highlight what I think are some of the top and most interesting add-ins to give you a head start. We’ll look at Dictate, an add-in that lets you dictate your documents directly into Word; TextAloud, an add-in that reads your text aloud to you; Read My Document; another add-in that reads your text to you; Translator, an add-in that can translate text in your document between different languages; Collins Dictionary; an add-in that offers a dictionary, a thesaurus, and a translator with audio pronunciation; and Wikipedia, an add-in that lets you access the online encyclopedia site without leaving Word.

Dictate

Windows 10, 8.1, and 7 already come with built-in speech recognition and dictation. But now there’s a new kid on the block. A Microsoft Garage project, Dictate is a free add-in designed for Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook. Tapping into the technology behind Cortana, Dictate uses speech recognition to convert your words into text. After installing this add-in, launch Word and you’ll see a new menu called Dictation. Click on that menu to display the Dictation toolbar.

Click on the Start button in the Dictate toolbar and begin speaking. As you dictate, you can see the text as interpreted by the Dictate add-in appear in the Response field next to the Start button. You can speak punctuation marks and other non-alphanumeric items, such as periods, commas, and quotes. You can say “new line” or “new paragraph” to move to a new line or paragraph.

The add-in supports 29 spoken languages and can handle real-time translation to 30 languages, so you can speak your text in one language and have it converted into the text of a different language. So, how did Dictate fare? Not as well I had hoped, at least initially. In my testing, Dictation got a fair number of words wrong and was no more accurate than Windows own Speech Recognition feature (which you can access from Control Panel). But the more I used Dictate, the more its accuracy improved. So, if you’re willing to put some time into training it, Dictate is definitely worth trying.

TextAloud

Here’s an add-in I’ve used for years to help me proofread and edit my documents. TextAloud reads your text aloud to you, so you can listen for any mistakes and hear how your documents sound. After you install TextAloud, open Word and click on the new TextAloud menu. From the TextAloud toolbar, you can opt to hear your entire document, the part starting from the cursor, or only selected text. You can pause, stop, and resume the speaking of your document. You can also alter the speed at which the voice speaks.

TextAloud isn’t free. The software by itself costs $29.95. If you want more natural sounding voices, you can add two AT&T Natural Voices for an additional $25. But if you need a reliable tool to help you listen to and verbally proofread your documents, TextAloud is worth the price.

Read My Document

Want a no-frills but free add-in that can read your documents to you? Read My Document fills that bill. Add Read My Document to Word. You have to trust the add-in and follow a few more steps. You then control it from the right pane and can access it by clicking on the Insert menu and selecting My Apps from the Add-ins button. Select the text you wish to hear or select the entire document and then click on the Read selected text button. You can pause or play the reading. The voice used by Read My Documents doesn’t quite have the smoothness of the AT&T Natural Voices but it’s not bad. It has a certain accent to it that makes it pleasing to the ear. You can’t switch voices or control the speech as you can with TextAloud. But for a free program, Read My Document is quite effective.

Translator

Using the power behind Microsoft’s own Translator app, the free Translator add-in can translate text in a document into a different language. After adding Translator, you’re prompted to open Word and trust the program. You can then access it by clicking on the Insert menu and selecting My Apps from the Add-ins button. The program pops up in the right pane. Choose the source and target languages. Select text in your document or select the entire document, and Translator displays the translation in the right pane. You can change the target language, and the displayed text automatically switches to your new language. Translator is a cool and convenient tool if you need to translate text on the fly.

Collins Dictionary

This helpful and free add-in provides a dictionary, thesaurus, and translator in one package, and can even pronounce words for you. Add Collins Dictionary from its page at the Office Store and then open it in Word. After you trust it, the add-in appears in the right pane. Select a word in your document, and the dictionary serves up a definition. In some cases, you can click on a speaker icon to hear the word spoken aloud.

Click on the link for the Thesaurus, and Collins offers synonyms for the word you selected. Then click on the Translator link, select a source language, and Collins translates the text into your chosen language, courtesy of Microsoft Translator.

Wikipedia

Yes, you can always access Wikipedia directly from the Web. But this free add-in provides access to the online encyclopedia within Word. After you add Wikipedia, the usual right pane pops up. Writing about a specific topic, and want to learn more about it? Just type a word or phrase in the search field and click on the search icon, or just select text in your document. The program displays the Wikipedia entry about your subject. Scroll down the pane and you’ll find more information and a link to expand the article to get even more details. Clicking on a link within the article brings you to a new article corresponding to the link, and all within the same pane. If you use Wikipedia as a source of information, you’ll find this a helpful and handy add-in.

 

Whitney, Lance. “Try these Top Add-in’s for Microsoft Word,” Windows Secrets July 2017

Posted in: MS Office Tips and Tricks, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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The life-saving browser shortcut everyone should know

I can’t believe I’d never heard of Ctrl-Shift-T.

If I had a dollar for every time I’d accidentally closed a browser tab — or worse, an entire windowful of ’em — I’d be rich.

But there’s a simple keyboard shortcut that can instantly correct this error: Ctrl-Shift-T.

Or Apple-Shift-T, if you’re using a Mac.

Honestly, I’m a little embarrassed to admit I only discovered the shortcut a few months back, but it’s changed my life ever since. (I used to use a browser extension called TooManyTabs to do something similar, but this is way better.)

Just know that some browsers work better than others. With Chrome or Safari, you can restore an entire window full of tabs with this one quick three-button press, so long as your browser is open.

But with Firefox or Microsoft Edge, you can only restore tabs one at a time, and only if you opened those exact tabs in the same browser window.

If this keyboard shortcut is new to me, I’m betting it could be new to you too. If not, maybe it’ll help someone else?

Hollister, Sean. “The life-saving browser shortcut everyone should know”. CNET August 2017

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7 Common Scams We’re Still Falling For

The other day, I received an SMS from Uber containing a two-factor authentication code that I hadn’t asked for. Panicked by the prospect that someone was trying to hack an account that stores my credit card details, I embarked on a flurry of password-changing, starting with my Outlook.com account—where I found an email from PayPal informing me that my account had been compromised. Now doubly panicked, I clicked the enclosed link to log in and change my password, and was about to enter the last character of my current password when I glanced at the URL in the toolbar—it didn’t say paypal.com.

As a relatively tech-savvy person who writes about internet security, I’d nonetheless been the target of two nearly successful scams in the space of an hour—what gives?

“Cybercrime is growing, and one of the biggest areas is credential-stealing—the theft of someone’s login details,” says Jon Clay, director of global threat communications, Trend Micro. Login credentials are valuable—and to obtain them, cyber criminals try to infect users’ machines with threats such as trojans that can spy on all activity on a computer, keyloggers, which can track inputted characters, or spoof screens that invite unwitting users to voluntarily give up their username and password (known as phishing). Once criminals have these details, they can not only breach the account in question, but potentially set into motion a daisy chain of account breaches that could lead to identity theft.

“In the vast majority of cases, cyber criminals are trying to obtain money,” Clay says. Ransomware is a form of malware that entirely bypasses credential-stealing to encrypt a user’s device, rendering it and its files inaccessible unless a ransom is paid. And the use of ransomware is skyrocketing. Symantec found that the average ransom demanded in such attacks in 2016 was $1066 per person—266% higher than the year before—while on mobile, ransomware attacks have risen by 250%.

Cyber threats, from ransomware to spy software to phishing attempts on valuable logins, commonly gain access to users’ devices when users unknowingly click a malicious link in an email, on a webpage or in an online ad. The increasing availability of personal information online via sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook means that scammers are getting more precise at social engineering—manipulating people to click on malicious links or give up personal information by using seasonal cues, current events or, more insidiously, facts gleaned from their public profiles.

“Social engineering is all about exploiting users’ irrational behavior,” says Rahul Telang, professor of information systems and management at Carnegie Mellon University, who’s currently working on a project examining consumers’ security and privacy behavior. “You may know something is too good to be true—that winning lottery ticket, a get-rich-fast plan, a chance to meet your life partner—but the rewards are so high, you think, why not try?”

The chance of making such a cognitive error rises when scammers use language or make offers designed to appeal to our specific circumstances—or when we aren’t on guard.

We all know what spam email looks like—it’s the stuff that our email filters normally catch, with subject lines that use our email handle as a first name, notify us of vast lottery winnings or offer various bodily enhancements. But spam filters have gotten so sophisticated that when an email does slip past—as with my PayPal spoof email—we’re not necessarily in the right frame of mind to catch it.

“The most common ways cyber criminals can get to you is through your email,” Telung says. “When you’re checking your emails, even if you’re not interested in shopping, if an email says you’ve got this great deal, you’re likely to click.”

Scammers’ psychological tricks can even include the time of day. “There are many cases where spam is sent at certain times of day when people are less likely to be diligent, such as in the morning,” Clay says.

Subject: “Your account has been compromised!”

 

Spoof emails from financial accounts are on the rise, and this scam targets the rising fear of the consequences of hacked bank (or PayPal) accounts by claiming an account has already been hacked. Users are then exhorted to protect their account by clicking a link to change their password—except they’re really taken to a bogus screen that records login details, sending them straight to hackers, who now have access to a previously safe account.

“We are seeing phishing as a big one to steal credentials,” Clay says. “In most cases, the link pops up a phishing screen to get details, or downloads a banking trojan that contains a keylogger or runs scripts to transfer funds out of the account.”

Subject: “Please check your tax return”

Around tax season, scam emails appearing to be from the IRS tend to make the rounds, says Clay—usually with a request for your personal information or for taxes associated with a large sum of money you’ve mysteriously come into. These links end up taking users to a phishing screen or a malware download that gives the criminal access to the victim’s computer. “Financial scams are often successful because people are concerned about their finances, and if they receive an email about an audit, or their taxes, they tend to take action,” Clay says.

Seasonal Spam

Holidays can also bring on a wave of seasonal spam, ranging from shopping discounts, which, in a sea of similar promotions from your favorite retailers, can be hard to spot, to greeting cards from email addresses that appear to belong to friends or family.

“Black Friday is a big one. You might see scam emails offering links to a 50% off coupon,” Clay says.

Emails from friends

You may have received an email from a friend purporting to be in trouble overseas and in need of cash, recommending you donate to their favorite charity, or, in a particularly virulent phishing scam earlier this year, with a link to a Google Docs document that led to a Google sign-in page and request to authorize “Google Docs” for email—which would give the scammers control of the user’s account.

“Criminals are getting smarter [about getting] access to your social network data,” Telung says. “It’s easier for them to impersonate someone close to you and send an email that you’re more likely to trust.”

What to do:

  1. Be very wary of any email that tries to get you to click on a link or open an attachment, especially if it involves some urgency, Clay says, such as a breached account or friend in distress. Stoking panic is one way of pushing users into a state of mind when they may be less vigilant about looking for signs of fraud.
  2. If you’re on a computer, hover the cursor over a link you’re being asked to click, and check the bottom left of your browser window—you should see the true URL you’ll be directed to.
  3. Check with your financial institutions for guidelines describing the type of communication you can expect. For example, the IRS doesn’t initiate contact to request personal or financial information, while PayPal emails always address the recipient by first and last name—which my spoof email did not.

Bad ads on good sites

Nobody loves online ads, but the last year has seen a spike in the prevalence of “malvertising,” malware-ridden ads that redirect browsers to phishing sites or sites that serve more malware.

“A lot of people still click on ads. Criminals are now targeting legitimate websites with malvertisements designed around current news events or the time of year—such as tax time, Christmas, Black Friday—that invite users to click a link that ends up infecting their computer with malware or ransomware,” Clay says.

Because of the way online ads are served via third-party automatic platforms, websites’ security controls usually can’t detect or block malvertisements. Like online ads, which appear to certain users based on their past browsing, malvertisements can be targeted to particular profiles and times of year, making it all the more likely that an unsuspecting user will click on an appealing offer, especially when the ad appears on a trusted site, such as The New York Times, Newsweek and MSN—all of which were hit by a major malvertisment attack last year.

In many cases, users don’t need to click on the ads to be infected: Malicious script can run as soon as the ads loads—an attack known as a drive-by download.

What to do:

1.       Download all security patches for your OS, browser and other programs. Malware works by targeting security holes in browsers and plugins, most notably Flash or Java—both of which are notoriously full of vulnerabilities. If your systems are up to date, malware has a lesser chance of slipping in undetected.

2.       Enable “click-to-play” for plugins such as Flash and Java. This stops plugins from automatically running page elements, including ads, until you click them. You can find this in your browser’s Settings menu, under Plugins.

3.       Uninstall plugins you don’t use. The more plugins, the more potential vulnerabilities there are for a drive-by download to target. Websites are increasingly eschewing Java, for example, and Microsoft’s Silverlight plugin, once essential for Netflix and some radio stations’ “listen online” options, is also far less prevalent.

Finally, “avoid clicking on things you weren’t looking for,” advises Telung.

Unsolicited two-factor authentication texts

Many accounts, from banks to Gmail, use two-factor authentication to protect users’ data by requesting a code, often sent by SMS, in addition to a password. However, researchers recently demonstrated that it’s possible for scammers to spoof these texts.

In the scam, the criminals try to log into the account—or change the password—which would trigger the SMS code to be sent, as occurred with my Uber account. After that, a second—spoofed—SMS requests that the user reply with the code to confirm that the account is theirs—thus delivering the authentication code into the hands of the hackers.

What to do:

1.       If you haven’t tried to log into your account or change your password, ignore such texts.

2.       Never reply to these texts with the authentication code or any other login details.

3.       Change your password.

4.       Where the accounts support it, change the code delivery method from SMS to an authenticator app, such as the ones used by Gmail and Outlook.

Whether it’s free business-class flights to Australia or a clearance sale on totally authentic designer sunglasses, scams circulated via Facebook were the most common online attack method in 2016, according to Cisco’s annual security report.

One prevalent scam involves spoof pages for trusted brands advertising unbelievable sales, which are shared by unsuspecting Facebook users. These ads then appear in their friends’ feeds—and because it appears as a recommendation by someone they know, they’re all the more likely to click through. The links may lead to phishing sites that make a play for credit card details, or to legitimate-looking online shops where victims end up purchasing counterfeit goods.

What to do:

1.       Look up the website or company name—often, if it’s a scam, others will have fallen prey and posted about it on site-review websites such as Trustpilot or Reviewcentre.

2.       Look up the URL registration at Whois.net, which will tell you how long the domain has been active, among other details that should give you an idea of whether the site is legitimate.

3.       If the site appears trustworthy, make sure the transaction is done over a secure (https) connection.

4.       Use a credit card, not a debit card—credit transactions can be reversed by banks in case of fraud.

Securing the digital gates

Awareness about cyber fraud can go a long way to avoiding malicious links and sites, but as scams become more sophisticated, internet users will need to be increasingly dependent on software providers that can detect an ever-evolving array of cyber threats.

“Criminals are really starting to target legitimate websites with malvertising, redirects to bad sites, and malicious scripts that download malware as soon as the site loads,” Clay says. Where human error is still the “in” for most cybercrime, the rise of threats such as malvertising and drive-by downloads that can infect a user’s computer with barely any interaction means that strong security software is more crucial than ever.

“Cyber security is a war between scammers trying to figure out how to get into your machine and the security companies trying to stop them—and the user is just in the middle,” Telung says. “At some level, the game can be so sophisticated, even well-informed people may not be able to avoid being scammed. Users just have to hope they have the tools to prevent attacks.”

Those tools include a comprehensive security program with advanced features such as firewall, phishing detection and website scanning to flag potentially dangerous destinations. As Clay notes, cyber security is no longer just about blocking viruses.

Stokes, Natasha. “7 Common Scams We’re Still Falling For”  Techlicious August 2017

 

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