Now That I Have All This Free Time…

During the current crisis that has brought most of the world to a stand still, many have found themselves with extra free time due to Stay Home Orders issued by many states.

If this applies to you, my hope is that you are in a work from home situation, or that you are currently placed on furlough at most and that your place of employment will have your position waiting for you once we get through this difficult time.

Whatever your situation, you may find yourself compelled to tackle some things you haven’t quite been able to find the time to do. Most people seem driven to tackle some home improvement projects, or to take up some physical activity (possibly out of guilt for abandoning their ill-fated New Year’s Resolution as most tend to do).

Nothing wrong with either of those “to-do’s”, but might I suggest that you use this time to do a personal tech security audit? Without question, protecting your personal information nowadays has always been important. But during the current epidemic we find ourselves in it may be more important now than ever. Unfortunately, the less desirable among us has seized this time as an opportunity, so there has been an uptick in scams and breaches. The good news is there are a few simple tools and techniques you can use to help keep your digital information secure.

Use A Password Manager

As any cyber security expert will tell you, the use of passwords is the weakest link in everything. In fact, in a perfect world, we would abandon the use of passwords altogether. The fact of the matter is, people are horrible at creating secure passwords. We all are. Yes, you are as well. Regardless of how clever you may think you are, the fact is your brain will ultimately settle into a recognizable pattern when attempting to think up new passwords. The real problems arise when once your pattern is cracked, infiltrators can then use that pattern to figure out the passwords for your other secured accounts. Although a more broad adoption of biometrics would be a much better solution, the fact is we are still stuck with passwords.

As such, it is important to use a Password Manager. Personally, I’ve always been a fan of LogMeIn’s Last Pass. I use it for my most important accounts – such as my bank account. In fact, I have no idea what my bank account password is. Instead, like I do with other accounts that I want to keep most secure, I let Last Pass generate a truly random and secure password (the most I can tell you about my bank password is it’s 36 characters long).

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Last Pass gives you the option to control the length and complexity of the passwords you have it generate, and it stores them all in your personal vault. Install the app on your cell phone, and it will control all of those logins for you when needed. And speaking of biometrics, the app confirms it’s really you by using your device’s existing technology – whether that’s face recognition or a fingerprint scannger. With Last Pass, the only password you’ll need to remember is the password to your Last Pass account. It’s very important that you setup the secure password recovery options, because even the folks at Last Pass cannot see or reset this password for you.

Stop Using Your Credit Card

Now more than ever, more and more of us are ordering online. Thus it should come as no surprise that many have fallen victim to credit card theft – especially as some have become desperate for certain household necessities that they choose to place orders from less-than-reputable websites. Sure, there are still solutions like PayPal and Venmo, which are secure in their own right, but ultimately they are still a one payment source solution.

Thankfully there is an easy solution – during desperate times and during normal times. The service I like to use is Privacy.

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Privacy lets you generate multiple, unique virtual credit cards – each with their own numbers, CSV codes, and expiration dates. Ordering from a site that you’re not so sure about? Use Privacy to generate a single use card that can only be used for that particular purchase. Any attempts to use the card afterwards is denied – and Privacy alerts you as such! In fact, Privacy alerts you of all purchases you make and keeps a monthly ledger of all your purchases. In fact, each card you setup can be locked to the vendor you chose. For example, I use Privacy for all of my recurring subscriptions such as Netflix and for all of my Amazon purchases and my Prime subscription. If I ever chose to skip a month for Netflix, I can simply pause the card assigned to it. Simply put, all digital transactions I conduct online are done with Privacy cards. From ordering take out to support restaurants, to paying monthly bills, I never use my bank issued card.

No One Is Watching You

This particular trick is still circulating, and angers me personally because I have family members who have fallen victim to it.

While surfing the web or simply composing an email, you receive a “security” pop up or notification indicating that system monitors have detected problems with you computer and they need you to act now. Clicking on the so-called warning basically opens the door to your computer. The first thing the “security professional” likes to do is show you a screen shot of your desktop, or access your webcam if you have one connected as a way to “prove” to you that they are truly who they say they are. Simply put, they are not. Microsoft, Apple, Google, or no other company is actively watching you or monitoring your system for problems, nor will they contact you in this manner. Nor will they ever call you. Ultimately what happens is the victim is instructed to pay a fee to “fix” the problems found. Unfortunately this is nothing short of a con and theft. If you ever see such a message, don’t click on it. It it won’t go away, simply go to your system’s Start menu and select “Shut Down”. Wait a few minutes then power back up. This will typically end this annoyance.

Don’t Click That Link

Lastly, please be sure to be EXTRA careful with email. As has become the norm during times of peril, email phishing scams are increasing almost daily. You may have already received emails from vendors and merchants you trust informing you as such – they will never send you emails requesting your personal information. Most importantly, they will not send an email with a link for you to click (which is the scam itself) to take you to a website to provide such information. Thankfully, many email spam filters tend to catch the bulk of these types of scams, but sometimes a few will slip through. A good rule of thumb to live by is simply to remember that if you didn’t initiate any changes to an account (such as a password reset request), treat all “we need you to update your information” requests as spam. Use the correct contact information from the service that supposedly sent it, and confirm if they actually sent the email. Most likely, they did not. Delete the email immediately. Better yet, depending on the email provider you use, block and report the sender as spam.

At all times, it is important to protect yourself in this digital age. Unfortunately during the worst of times criminals tend to ramp up their attacks and attempts to steal your hard earned money. Hopefully the tools I’ve provided here can help you keep your information secure.

Please feel free to reach out with any questions or comments.

 

He Did It!

About 2 months ago, Bryson and I were having breakfast at our favorite local spot, Cherry Street Cafe, chit-chatting as we often do about tech and such. I had been struggling with coming up with new ideas about something he and I could do together (some new project or hobby), so on the ride home I asked him to come up with something.

About a week later he came to me and said, “Dad, I have an idea. A 3D printer.”

We had toyed with this idea before, but at that time prices were far outside of anything I was willing to spend. Back then I had told him, “We’ll wait because you know how tech works – when it first comes out it can be expensive. But as it catches on, prices will drop and a lot of the bugs will be worked out with the process.” He had remembered this conversation over the years, and during this week in question, he had combed the internet looking for value priced units, (but not cheap, as I’ve taught our children to be careful about buying things that are priced too low since you simply get what you pay for) and watching more review videos than I care to imagine!

I gave it a little thought, then replied, “Ok – what do you have in mind?”

“Come here. I have it pulled up on the office computer”, he said.

What he had found was the Comgrow Creality Ender 3 Pro 3D Printer. He also proceeded to show me a great, honest review video and then pitched his proposal –

“I’ll save up half and you cover the other half.”

Shook hands, and we had a deal!

For the weeks to follow, he worked and saved – asking for extra chores to make some cash, saving every penny. Finally he came to me and proclaimed, “Well Dad, I’ve got my half!”

Fast forward to Friday, August 9th 2019, and it arrived – he did it!

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Not only am I proud of him for his hard work, and focusing on his goal until completion, I’m also proud of his patience. As you can imagine, he was jumping out of his skin with excitement for he and I to get it assembled, but he patiently waited without complaining as I first had to build an add-on to our project bench in the basement for it to sit. But even that had to wait as I had a scheduled podcast interview before hand, as well as other weekend “busyness” such as his little bother’s football game, and a family dinner. But with each spare moment, we slowly but surely got it all together (about 1 1/2 hour total assembly time).

 

To top it off, he knows much more about it than I do. Once assembled, he told me about “bed leveling” – I had no clue, but turns out this must be done before we can start our first project.

Good job, Bryson!

#BrainiacBryson

#AllenThisTogether

 

Google Pulls Some Reverse Psychology

Only a day ago, photos leaked of what was reported to be renderings of Google’s new Pixel 4 phone. Instead of riding out the storm, and let the leaks cascade day after day, leading up to the official press announcement, Google decided to pull a fast one on its Made By Google Twitter account:

 

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Thus, unlike leaks of yesteryear (who can forget the leak storm for the Pixel 3 that eventually lead to rumors that Google was actually behind it all), Google has decided to turn the Leaker Community on its ear!

I for one am glad to see this, because I’m personally sick of Leak Media.

Happy Anniversary, www

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30 years later, and how are we doing? On one hand, it would seem the web shrunk the world and has connected us to cultures we could never have imaged being connected to before. We can communicate with others almost anywhere for free. We can see the wonders of the world that we may have never had the opportunity to see before. We can work in collaboration with those who are hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away. We can indulge in things we love to create like never before. Education on nearly every conceivable topic or skill can be reached by almost anyone in the world. Commerce and trade can move at the blink of an eye.

But on the other hand, it can seem that it has driven us further apart. Privacy Advocates are literally pulling their hair out as they come to the realization that many of us have known for some time now – traditional “privacy” is basically nonexistent. Once you click, share, view, shop, download or upload, literally all bets are off in regards to privacy. Criminals of all walks of life have found new and dangerous dark places to hide, while remaining cloaked in anonymity. Tyrannical leaders have yet another, more powerful tool to feed propaganda to their people while simultaneously cutting them off from the rest of the world. Bullying and hatred have evolved in ways that no one could have imagined before.

But ultimately, like most things in life, the internet can be what you make it for yourself – good or bad. Simply put, wherever your focus is, the internet has countless open paths to lead you to conclusions of knowledge or belief. The choice is yours.

Happy 30th Anniversary, World Wide Web!

https://g.co/doodle/nepqse

 

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

I have been following a story that broke about a week ago via sources like arsTECHNICA, in which it was reported that big names like Disney and Epic Games (creators of Fortnite) had pulled all advertising from YouTube.

When I first heard that Disney had done so, I immediately thought this was in relation to them pulling their content off of Netflix pending the launch of their own new streaming service. But the actual reason turned out to be far more disturbing.

As it turns out, pedophiles have been engaged in a sick tagging activity in which they note seemingly innocent things in videos of children by commenting only the time stamp in which a child does something that may be appealing to other pedophiles. In one example given, a parent had uploaded a video of her daughter’s gymnastics class. Buried in the comments that follow are time stamps like “10:22”, as that is a point in the video when one of the little girls does a cartwheel.

Other examples of videos are given that I’m not going to get into too much detail here, but the comments come across innocent to children who don’t yet understand these types of things, and they unwittingly reply. One child was even tricked into telling their age.

This also leads to what has been referred to as a “Pedophilia Soft-Core Wormhole” because of YouTube’s “More Like This” algorithm. This algorithm has always been one of my favorite features, especially when it comes to listening to music on YouTube. It’s great for discovering new or previously forgotten content. But in the context of videos with children, it’s easy for the stable minded to see how this can further feed the disturbed mind of the pedophile.

For their part Google, who owns YouTube, has pledged to come up with tools to help combat this – starting with tweaking algorithms that are currently in place. Other measures include things like disabling comments for videos posted on accounts owned by children under 18, or videos that have children in them. Which brought to mind a couple of questions –

  1. Is it necessary to have comments on YouTube videos?
  2. What is the purpose of having comments on YouTube videos?

This type of revelation could not have come at a worse time as more and more young people marvel at the successes of those like MKBHD – those YouTubers who are now commonly referred to as “influencers”. In fact, my daughter has her very own YouTube channel and is excited about hopefully making it grow. Couple that with the massive and ever growing online gaming community, as well as recent statistics that show young people spend far less time watching conventional TV as they do viewing YouTube content, it is simply unfortunate to know that the creeps of the world will try to follow them no matter where they go.

But to be clear here (especially to parents reading this), I do not intend this to be taken as a warning to “keep your kids off of YouTube!” or the internet itself for that matter. The fact is, creeps are everywhere. They always have been and always will be. We don’t simply keep our kids away from playgrounds knowing that creeps may be around, do we? If so, we have simply let the “bad guys” win.

Rather I offer this especially to those who may not have been aware. I believe the takeaway should be to, as usual, be aware. Be conscious of videos you may be posting of your children. Talk to your kids who may have their own YouTube channels – help them understand, at appropriate levels, the potential impact of what the videos they post may have. Familiarize yourself with YouTube controls – I’ve spoken to people before who were surprised to learn that videos you upload to YouTube don’t have to be available for public consumption. Rather, you can set them to be viewable only by those you choose (this is perfect for sharing with extended family). And if need be, don’t forget to reach out to YouTube Help.

The fact is, we can have nice things. We just need to remember to be good stewards of them.

 

 

Owning Your Online Self

Taking Ownership Of Your Online Content

MeOver the past few months, I have been listening to more and more podcasts about the importance of owning your online “self”. Not out of some sort of paranoia. Not out of privacy concerns. But rather for the simple fact that, in this social media age that we more than likely will never fully abandon, I have decided that I agree with many in that it is important to own as much about me online as I can.

What really got me thinking about this is the recent demise of Google Plus. I loved Google Plus as many others have. But what’s important to remember is one critical fact that Google points out in their email to users – once it’s gone, it’s gone. All of your posts. All of your photos and videos. All of your shared thoughts and ideas. Gone. And unless you took steps to download all of your content, it’s gone forever. All because you don’t “own” yourself online.

What if Facebook suddenly shut down forever? All of the years of posts, photos, videos, etc. — once again, GONE.

So I’ve decided to do as many others have – register my own domain in my name, and actually “own” me! My photos, my videos, my posts – all mine, on my own site, in my own name. No one has control over me but me.

And I’m not doing this to criticize the likes of Facebook, Twitter, or what have you. This has nothing to do with the occasional scary stories that crop up from time to time about sometimes unethical behaviors on their part. Sure, I could easily make that argument. But the fact is, I knew and fully understood what I was getting when I signed up for those free services. But as I’ve said, this is more about me owning my own online content from here on out. As such, I hope to post and share here more than anywhere else. I’ll share with my family in friends in that I’ll provide links to here so that we can stay in touch the way I think social media was first intended. Please feel free to comment, or to contact me.

I simply want to Own my Online Self!