I too used to be a Cable-holic, An ode to my fellow cable-holics

Every once in awhile when I scroll my Facebook timeline I see people complaining about their cable bill, weird fees and the hundreds of channels they don’t even watch. So I’m writing about my deliverance from cable in hopes of helping someone cut the cord and join the revolution (and save $$$).

Up until July of 2013, I was a cable-holic. Addicted to DVR-ing, OnDemand and access to many channels. I slowly began to realize that I had hundreds of channels (most of which I did not watch), decent speed internet and a land line phone I did not use. I needed help. I too was tricked into bundles, paying for services that I did not need. I used to be on the phone constantly with my cable company disputing this fee or that fee or some other weird fee. I was paying around $200.00 for 3 services, two of which (landline and 100s of channels) I could do with out.

My help arrived in the form of cable cutting

cut the cord.jpg

My cable addiction was over in July of 2013. After weeks of researching media technology like Roku,  HD antenna’s and Smart TVs, along with reviewing the benefits of cord cutting, I finally decided to rebuke cable (and the adjustable rate bundle) from my house and “cut the cord”. The transition from cable to essentially viewing media on demand was adjustment at first, but my family and I became used to it quickly. I have no regrets living without cable. I no longer have to plan my evenings (or life) around a certain night just to watch a certain show. I can watch TV at my own pace, when I want to, I can even binge watch TV shows (I highly recommend binge watching Breaking Bad by the way) Let me use technology to explain my cable freedom…

Roku (the cable box replacement)

A Roku is small black box that allows you to instantly stream your favorite TV shows. The prices for a Roku range from $49.99 to $129.99. Here are the different Roku models found here. To replace my cable box, I bought 3 Roku boxes and a Roku TV.  The Roku box versions that I have are two Roku 2’s and a Roku 3. At some point I will upgrade to a Roku 4. Your probably wondering what kind of stuff can I watch via the Roku box?

The good thing about Roku is that there are 1000’s of channels to watch. Most free, some paid and some that are subscription based. I have a mixture of free and subscription based channels like Netflix, Hulu and Sling TV. Netflix covers my movies, TV shows and original content. Hulu covers my TV shows along with more original content and then there is Sling TV. Sling TV is special. Sling TV solidified my reasoning for cutting the cable. Sling TV will actually make your transition from cable at lot easier. Sling TV is subscription based that costs 19.99 a month which grants access to channels like AMC (for my Walking Dead fans), ESPN 1&2, HGTV, TNT, TBS and a few other impressive line ups that all stream live as if I was….watching cable.

There are also a la carte options for Sling TV in case you want to add more channels for your kids or your own special interests. All of my media viewing is over the internet. So the only service I have from my the cable company is high speed internet, great segway into the next topic…

Cable modem

Did you know that your cable company is charging you a rental fee for your cable modem? An average, cable modems cost in the $50.00 to $70.00 range (this is a one time fee vs montly fee). If you are paying $8.00 a month for a cable modem lets just say for a year you have paid $96.00. So with this cost you could have easily bought your own cable modem and end up saving more $$$ in the end instead of renting the cable modem.

Antenna

For my local channels like ABC, CBS, CW, etc I use an indoor antenna. I bought two TERK antenna’s that display the local channels in high definition. Here are the models that I am currently using: TERK 1 and TERK 2.  The good thing about this option is that I get 20+ HD channels for free.

This is not intended to be a vendor biased article.There are other set top boxes available such as Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and other devices that you can use to stream your media. Between all of this technology / media streaming, my family and I are entertained daily. I am just giving insight into what I use and how I am able to function with out cable and paying out the extra money.

Will you cut the cord? Let me know if you decide to. Join the revolution…If you have further questions, need help or a deeper explanation, let me know,  I am willing to help out.

 

Secure your Selfies!!!

Instagram is in the process of rolling out its new security feature in its latest attempt to further protect you from hackers. With the latest update (to be rolled out in phases), Instagram will add two factor authentication to its app for better account protection.

Two-factor authentication or 2FA adds a second level of authentication to an account log-in. Entering only your username and one password is considered a single-factor authentication. 2FA requires the a user to have two out of three types of credentials before being able to log into an account.

Here are three types of 2FA:

  • Something you know, such as a personal identification number (PIN), pattern or a password.
  • Something you are, i.e.bio-metric like a fingerprint, voice, or eye (retinal scan)
  • Something you have, such as an ATM card, token, or phone.

If you decide to activate 2FA within Instagram, logging into the app will now begin to require your password AND an additional security code. The code will be sent to you via SMS ( Short Message Service a.k.a. Text). With 2FA activated, Instagram will send you an SMS security code every time you login as an extra layer of security. The new input screen that will appear after the regular login page will look like this:

INSTAGRAM-TWO-FACTOR-AUTHENTICAITON-PROMPT

I currently use 2FA for my online banking, Mint, Smarty Pig and Facebook. Again this security feature will be updated over time so if you do not see the 2FA option right now, it will arrive eventually. Continue to make sure your app is updated to the latest version as well. Once the update is rolled out it will be listed under “Posts you’ve liked” option in the settings page of your Instagram account.

INSTAGRAM-SECURITY-AUTHENTICATION-OPTION

Again 2FA is another added layer of security to protect your accounts and online identity from hackers. Though not 100% (like security features in general), it is a very effective security practice to deter malicious activity. Currently Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Google and a host of others use 2FA as well. What other apps or accounts do you currently use 2FA for?

5 ways to tell if your computer is infected with malware

  1. Slow performance

    Have you noticed if it takes longer than normal for your computer to boot up to the desktop? Once you’re logged in are you waiting too long for your programs to startup? More than likely you have some form of malware on your machine. Malware has the tendency to slow down your system, applications and overall functionality of the PC.

    If you do notice something like this and you are not using any resource-heavy programs or applications, keep in mind It could also be a lack of memory available, a fragmented system, lack of space on your hard drive or maybe a hardware issue affecting your drive. Hopefully that is the case instead of malware.

  2. Pop ups


    Another sign of malware is represented by unwanted pop-up windows. Unexpected (and annoying) pop-ups are typical signs of a spyware/ adware infection. To avoid potential spyware via pop ups:

    • avoid clicking on suspicious pop-up windows
    • do not download the recommended software listed on the pop ups
    • be careful when downloading free applications (always check to see if unnecessary software will be installed, i.e. un-check the checkboxes)

    If you do notice your system has pop ups, consider using malware removal tools such as Malwarebytes, Spybot Search and Destroy, Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware.

  3. Weird web-browser (IE, Chrome, Firefox) activity 


    Have you noticed if your browser home page changed to a random site? Are there toolbars placed at top of your web browser? If you try to go to one of your favorite sites, are you re-directed to another unrelated site? These could be symptoms of malware. Malware can install unwanted browser configurations, change the browsers home page, redirect you to unexpected sites, install toolbars, and/ or open unwanted Search engines. One way this can happen is when you visit a website and you accidentally click an malicious online ad or a unexpected pop-up window.

    The action that follows triggers a download/ install malicious software.If you notice this activity, run a complete scan with your Anti-Virus software asap. Your machine at the very minimum should have antivirus programs such as Microsoft Security Essentials, Avast, or AVG. These type of threats may not be initially captured by your anti-virus software so it wont hurt to run additional scans with  the anti-spyware programs mentioned in point #2.

  4. Suspicious hard drive activity 

    Another warning sign of a potential malware infection on your system is unusual hard drive activity. If you notice that your disk continues to have excessive activity (performing either very, very slow or sounding as though your computer is about to take off) this could be a good indicator to check your system for malware. More than likely there are malicious processes running which affects the production of the overall system.

  5.  Anti-Virus software / features disabled 

    When trying to run scans on your machine, you notice that your antivirus isn’t working anymore or the update feature appears to be disabled. Believe it or not there some malware programs that are designed to disable anti-virus/ security programs. Remember the overall goal of malware is to steal information from your system without any interruption.

    Some variants of malware will even prevent you from accessing security vendor websites. I experienced this when I was attempting to remove the conficker virus one time and could not get to security vendor websites like Symantec or McAfee sites as part of my troubleshooting. If you experience this situation more than likely your system has been infected with malware.

    Always try to keep your system virus free and that starts with looking out for the signs of infection listed above.

How safe is your email address?

Target, Home Depot, VTech all have something in common besides taking our money from time to time. These companies (and several more) were breached by hackers in 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively.

A “breach” is an incident where a hacker illegally obtains data from a vulnerable system, usually by exploiting weaknesses in the software. All the data in the site comes from website breaches which have been made publicly available. The information hackers seek ranges from data such as addresses, phone numbers, credit card information, social security numbers and email accounts.

Here is a tip:

To see if your email account has been released into the wild because of a company that was breached check out: https://haveibeenpwned.com/ , enter your email address, click Pwned? and see what it comes back with.

pwned1

Hopefully your email doesn’t show up on the Pwned list. If it does (like my Gmail account did as seen in the screenshot) make sure you change your password and monitor any accounts associated with that respective email account.

pwned2

Credit (https://haveibeenpwned.com – Troy Hunt)

Featured software for PC protection – January 23

Malwarebytes anti-malware (Free version)

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware is by far one of my favorite anti-malware programs. I use malwarebytes as a backup to my Anti-Virus program, in case my AV program misses a threat. The free version of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware contains two types of scans, Threat scan and custom scan. The Threat scan, scans all of the possible places malware is known to hide such as in the startup process, registry and other parts of the file system.

Malwarebytes Anti-malware

The Custom scan gives you the option to choose what files and folders you want to scan.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware custom scan

For example on one of my computers (yes I have several) I have omitted a folder containing viruses (used for testing) and another folder containing investigative tools. Had I not done so, malwarebytes or my Anti-Virus program would have deleted my testing / tool files.

I recommend downloading Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (https://www.malwarebytes.org/antimalware/) and running it at least weekly in order to further protect your computer.

If you have a Mac you can download the Mac version here (https://www.malwarebytes.org/antimalware/mac/)

The worst passwords of 2015

According to Splash Data’s yearly “Worst passwords list” here are the most common passwords used in 2015:

Rank      Password            Change from 2013

1              123456                 No Change

2              password            No Change

3              12345                  Up 17

4              12345678            Down 1

5              qwerty                 Down 1

6              123456789           No Change

7              1234                      Up 9

8              baseball               New

9              dragon                 New

10           football                  New

11           1234567                  Down 4

12           monkey                  Up 5

13           letmein                  Up 1

14           abc123                   Down 9

15           111111                     Down 8

16           mustang               New

17           access                   New

18           shadow                Unchanged

19           master                 New

20           michael               New

21           superman            New

22           696969               New

23           123123                  Down 12

24           batman               New

25           trustno1              Down 1

If you log into your personal accounts using one of these passwords above please change it. As you can see the secret is out there. If you need help refer to Up your password game

Up Your Password Game

Let’s be honest, how many of you reading this article currently uses a password containing variations of a relatives name, pets name, your address or even the word “password”. At this time I am encouraging you to change your password to something stronger. This article will encourage you to change your password to something that will make you feel more secure about your accounts (work or personal). Using a strong password can prevent someone from hacking into your account using password attack methods such as brute force or social engineering.

Once a malicious actor (what we call hackers / attackers in the cyber-security industry) gains access to your accounts they can do things such as: post random or bad posts on your behalf, send out spam emails, make changes to your bank account, change settings, etc.

Personally I have DIFFERENT passwords that I use for my online banking, email, media and social media accounts. The one thing that you want to prevent is having a specific email address and password tied to multiple accounts. If a malicious actor recognizes this trend all of your accounts can be compromised much easier.

Here are some recommendations to up your password game:

I recommend using the Password Meter site (http://www.passwordmeter.com/ ) to help you create a strong password. Password Meter will provide a real time analysis of your password and let you know how strong it is based on criteria for creating a strong password. This is a very helpful tool. Plus once you use it, you will feel a little smarter because you have taken the first step in protecting your accounts and your online identity. You will not believe how easy it is to obtain simple passwords and use the associated accounts for malicious intent.

I also use an app called 1Password (https://agilebits.com/downloads). 1Password allows me to keep all of my different passwords in 1 place, which is convenient for me because I have several passwords that I use. Using 1Password also keeps me from going to sites where I may have forgotten my password only to use the “forgot my password” link over and over again which could become a very tedious and time consuming process. 1Password also prevents me from writing passwords down on a sticky note. Over the course of my IT career, I have seen people use sticky notes to keep track of their username and passwords. The bad thing is, I have seen these sticky notes on stuck on monitors, on laptops even placed under keyboards. All of the methods listed above are of course a bad practices for storing passwords. Anyone in plain view of the sticky notes can gain unauthorized access to a person’s passwords and accounts. Again as a measure of added protection, feel free to give Password Meter and 1Password a try and let me know what you think.