Don’t get scammed online!

I received a panicked text from a colleague last week asking me what I knew about a company who he had allowed to connect and clean their two home Macs. He had received a notice on one of the machines saying he had malware on the network and to call a number to have assistance removing it. Immediately, I knew it was a scam.

LogMeIn scam sessionUnfortunately, he had already called the number and paid them via credit card over $200 to ‘fix’ the issue. I quickly had him end the call and remove the computer from the internet, severing the LogMeIn rescue session this operator had created on both a laptop and desktop machine. But, it was too late. The operator had already began to fix the issue by loading Safari extensions and other programs.

Once the connection was severed, I was able to help him by logging into his machine and cleaning up the mess this operator had made.

One of the things I noticed in the cleanup process was MacKeeper was installed onto the machine. I asked him if the operator had installed it or if he had. He told me an official looking window had told him he needed to clean his Mac because it had been infected and is full of malware and spyware about three months prior. He also said since it was Mac, it must have come from Apple, right? Not so much!

This past week alone, I’ve seen three machines with MacKeeper installed. In one of the instances, the user had paid MacKeeper for their services and in all three, they relayed a similar story to how it got installed.

I am sure MacKeeper has some value, but it’s not the first time I’ve heard similar stories from friends and clients. MacKeeper gets installed, problems follow, pop-up ads multiply, issues don’t get fixed. Best choice is to uninstall MacKeeper and not install it again! For instructions on how to uninstall, you can search for them online or let me know. I’m happy to do it for you!

So, what should you do when a window appears, looks somewhat official and close enough that it could come from the computer’s own software? Most of the time, unless a piece of software has been installed to capture issues (such as virus protection or a malware program), these messages are nothing more than ads meant to look like a computer message. They are tricky. Even when I see them, from time to time I have to look twice.

The overall take away of this is NOT to let someone you don’t know have access to your machine. The goal of any of these scams are to either take money from you for a service you don’t need or gain access to your machine to leave something behind to later get money from you or both. Be protective of your computer!

If you’ve had a problem with MacKeeper or with any tricky pop-ups, of course you can contact me and I can help clean things up or search online to see about fixing it yourself. You should always have a good backup available, but be aware, depending on how old it is, it may have the same issues.

A local backup is good but a secure online backup is better. I just recently updated my post on online backups so you may want to check that out.

Be vigilant and don’t be scammed!

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Comcast doesn’t care about their business customers

Bitter, party of one, your table is ready!

As you know, I run a business. It’s a home-based business, so my needs for Internet speeds are not as great as they once were (I’m not hosting e-mail or Websites on my home server anymore), but I need a static IP address, which I pay for and is not offered on the residential plans. I also live in an area where DSL just is not an option. I’m too far from the central office for it to work. So, it’s Comcast for me.

To use that static IP address, I need to pay for Business Internet. I’ve done so for seven years at a cost much higher than my neighbor who has the home version of the same service.

A few months ago, Comcast decided to start charging all customers $7 a month (in my area) for an equipment fee for my cable modem. I’ve never had to pay that fee and I understand the need for it, so I called looking for options. The operator said to just go buy my own modem.

Solution! Problem solved. I purchased my own Motorola SURFboard SB6120 (which was approved by the Comcast Website). It arrived and I went to set it up only to find out when I called to activate it I couldn’t activate it because I have a static IP address.

Frustrated, I called Comcast Billing and was told that is the case, I shouldn’t have been told I could purchase my own equipment and was basically out of luck. The person I spoke with did say Comcast would be offering the option of purchasing the modem (the seven-year-old modem) in the near future, but there was no timetable to make it happen and offered me a two-month credit for the $7 fee.

Honestly, that’s not acceptable. I’m being double or tripple-dipped on by having to pay for the business service so I can pay for a static IP address so I can pay for the fee on the modem.

I’m waiting to see if and when they offer the purchase of the modem, but I presume it will be more than what I am paying if I purchased a new one. Plus, did I mention my modem is seven-years-old!

Amazing!

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How I make a good password in a complex world

There our digital age, there is little that has become more important than choosing a good password to protect your information online. The Web has made it so not only do you need potentially multiple passwords, but passwords have needed to become more and more complex.

I remember the first password I ever received. It was for my bank ATM and consisted of four numbers. I thought it was a pretty good password because I had a hard time remembering it.

Gone are the days of four digit passwords, however. Now, most systems require at least eight characters, almost always alphanumeric and most needing at least one uppercase and one lowercase letter. Some systems even require a special character, such as an exclamation mark, a comma, period or some other “shifted” key on the keyboard.

Recently, we increased the password complexity level at my office from eight characters (what is required by Google Apps) to 10 characters. We are installing a new system that requires more complex passwords than most of our users have, and while the requirements for that system is only eight characters, we thought it made sense to move to 10 so we’re ready for the next time.

So, what is a good password? As I mentioned above, alphanumeric combinations, at least 10 characters (for now) with some sort of special character should do it.

But, a password that long or complex is hard to remember, right?

No, it doesn’t have to be. It can be a simple phrase, taking the first letters of the phrase, for instance, and doctoring it up.

Here’s an example. One phrase I’ve remembered since grade school is “My very educated mother just showed us nine planets“. I always remember this phrase as it’s the order of the planets if you use the first character of each word (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto — back when Pluto was a planet). You could use this phrase and make a password really easily: Mvemjsu9p! (I added the exclamation mark at the end to make it 10 characters. Note, this is NOT one of my passwords, it’s just an example.)

This password, Mvemjsu9p!, satisfies the requirements above and is a pretty good password. According to HowSecureIsMyPassword.net, this password would take a desktop computer about 928 years to break.

That’s just one example.

Another way to make a good password, if I have one already I like, is to add something either before it or after it. If I have a good password and it’s all lower case, add some upper case letters to the beginning or end. Or, better yet, I add a special character at the start to make it even more secure.

Passwords should never be your name, or your spouses’ name, or a pet name or your kids name or … get the idea.

The most common passwords include sequential numbers, iloveyou and, my favorite, password.

Happy password creating!

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Helping Waze get the word out about their KGO-TV partnership

Over two years ago I wrote a post about iPhone Apps I can’t live without. One of those Apps, Waze, I broke out into an individual post a few months later.

Last month, I received an e-mail from Di-Ann Eisnor, Vice President of Platform & Partnership for Waze asking if I’d be interested in being part of a TV piece for ABC7 (KGO-TV, San Francisco). I had exchanged e-mails with Di-Ann around the time I wrote those blog posts in late-2009 and early-2010. I was more than happy to help promote the Waze/ABC7 partnership by appearing as the “wazer” who showed off the system.

Just before Christmas, I spent a few hours in the downtown Palo Alto Waze office filming the piece, including a drive around Palo Alto showing off the App. It was fun meeting some of the Waze crew, including CEO Noam Bardin.

I learned that at one point early on while talking to local investors, Waze ran a report of people using the App locally. I guess my user name kept coming up again and again. That was when I would go days without seeing another Waze user on the map. Now, they are everywhere, just passing the 10 million worldwide user level.

For the past week, ABC7 has been promoting the partnership on all of their newscasts (and on KOFY-TV). If you haven’t seen it, reported by ABC7 News reporter Jonathan Bloom, here it is:

Starting today, ABC7 News traffic will be using Waze for on-air updates during their morning news broadcast.

If you have not downloaded and tried Waze yet, you can do so via your amartphone App store. You can connect your Facebook and Twitter accounts as well.

If you have any questions about Waze, let me know!

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Doing the Moneydance and saying goodbye to Quicken 2007 for Mac

Like so many other Mac users, I’ve used Quicken for many years and Quicken 2007 for Mac since it was released. I went looking to see how long it’s been and I really can’t tell. I have transactions going back to 1994, but I know I’ve not used it for that long. It has been a while, however.

As I mentioned in To upgrade or not to upgrade to MacOS X Lion? in August, Quicken’s lack of a Lion-compatible version was something that has kept me on OS X Snow Leopard (10.6) on my home computer (I have made the move on my laptop, however).

In late October, I started seriously looking at Quicken 2007 alternatives. I looked at quite a few and after consideration, I thought I landed on Moneydance ($49.99) for a variety of reasons, but mostly because of it’s ease of use and long-standing use. I didn’t want to start mid-year, so I decided to hold off until mid-December to look at this change for real.

On Tuesday, Dec. 21, I downloaded the trial version of Moneydance, converted my Quicken file and started to double-enter transactions. Moneydance’s trial version allows 100 entries to be entered before you have to pay for the full version. Luckily, importing data and connecting to financial institutions do not count toward the 100 entries. Within a few hours, I had all my information synced up with Moneydance and was ready to start using it in earnest starting January 1.

Then, on Dec. 22, Quicken Mac users got an e-mail from Aaron Forth, General Manager, Intuit Personal Finance Group, stating  they are working on a solution to make Quicken 2007 for Mac “Lion-compatible” by early spring with a link to this Web page.

This made me stop and think about the change I was about to make. I could stay with a program I am very familiar with by staying with Quicken. It sure is attractive, but early spring!?!?! Didn’t they get the message like the rest of us that Rosetta programs (including Quicken 2007) wouldn’t work with Lion?

I guess it comes down to the thought if Intuit will follow through; if they will charge for the upgrade; and, if it’s even an upgrade in the pipeline. I have a feeling they are just working on a way to simulate Rosetta on top of the same six-year-old program, which, as many before me have written, is way behind its Windows counterpart. It’s just too little, too late.

So, with this in mind and after using Moneydance more Friday and today, I have decided to move forward with my initial plan, purchase Moneydance (with a discount if you LIKE Moneydance on Facebook).

Goodbye, Quicken 2007… I can’t say it’s been fun, but I am looking forward to a long dance with Moneydance.

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