Tech Tips

Have you ever missed an email from an important person (e.g. your Boss or Best Client?)

Face it. We’re all inundated with email. Somewhere, amidst the Amazon offers, Dominos/Pizza Hut email, Alumni pleas, Event Invitations…and so on, and so on…are actually some “real” emails that require your attention! There are a bunch of ways to deal with moving unimportant emails ‘out of the way’ to review later (setup “rules”, people!), but I just found out about a way to HIGHLIGHT those emails that you really CARE about!

How would you like it if emails from your Boss, your Best Client, or your Mother, automatically came into your Inbox


Imagine my glee when I found out that this is actually a choice in Microsoft Office. I’ve used Outlook for YEARS and never knew!

Thank you to Windows Central (and author Al Socco), for this fabulous article (love the step-by-step images – presented just like I try to present technical ‘how to’s’). If you want to try to manage your email using color, please check it out:

Color Code Incoming Email Messages by Sender

Anatomy of a Ransomware Hack

We have all heard that “ransomware” is on the rise and that no one is immune. It’s true and it’s scary.

I got a call from a client last week that went something like this (I paraphrase), “Hey, Sandy, I got an email from a woman I know casually with an invoice attached. Should I open it?”


Ransomware and viruses can be spread easily through PDF files and ‘evil’ links. Just like an offer that’s ‘too good to be true’, an email that appears to come from someone you know (whether you know them well, or only vaguely), which is ‘odd’ or ‘suspicious’, probably is. S-T-O-P. DO NOT OPEN IT. Open up a new email, write that person in that ‘clean’ email, and say something like, “Hey – I got an odd email from you with an attachment. Did you send it to me? If not, you may want to email your contacts and let them know that your email was spoofed, and NOT to open that email if they got it”. Delete the initial email. Move on with life.

We can’t avoid malware and ransomware, but I have always wondered WHO and HOW it spreads so quickly.

Enter a wonderful video from Cisco (they make major network equipment that allows all of us to communicate so quickly and easily through computers).

Please find four minutes to watch this – it is entertaining – and horrifying.

I present: Anatomy of an Attack

If you want to learn more about how a ransomware attack appears if you are hacked, check out this good video by EnigmaSoftware on Digital Extortion:

It’s well worth the time to watch these videos in order to better understand how your behavior can actually open you up to attacks. Understanding is the first step in being able to avoid being attacked.

What are browser Add-Ins (Add-Ons), Extensions and Plug-Ins and why do I care?

It seems like every time you start to get on top of technology ‘lingo’, another term comes out. On top of that, depending on if you are a Google/Chromebook, Apple or Microsoft user, similar terms are given different names, so that you can’t tell that they’re really the same thing. Enter the world of web browser add-ins, aka add-ons, aka extensions, aka plug-ins.

There are four main browsers (you know, the program or window that you open to get to the web) – Google’s Chrome, Apple’s Safari, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Mozilla’s Firefox. Most people have a favorite – whether it’s a favorite because they just accept the default browser on a new device, or because they specifically install a particular browser. Regardless of why you use one browser over another, you can probably improve the way your browser behaves by installing one (or more) tiny programs called add-ins (or add-ons or extensions or plug-ins). These little programs make a browser “smarter” and allow you to do more with the browser than you could before the add-in/add-on/extension/plug-in was installed.

For example, concerned about “them” knowing who you are and where you go on the web? Consider installing an extension that protects your privacy. Struggle with the ever-growing list of passwords? Install an add-on that manages your passwords. How about one that will pin a page to Pinterest for you instantly. Use Evernote? Install an add-on that will allow you to save a web page to Evernote with one click. Want to find coupon codes as you’re shopping (even on Amazon)? There’s an add-on for that. Do you want to more easily download videos you see online to your computer? Grab an add-on. The list goes on and on and on.

These add-ins (add-ons), extensions and plug-ins take your fuddy-duddy old browser and make it work for YOU, the way YOU want it to! What a concept!

Once installed, an add-in may add a new toolbar, or a new icon on the toolbar, or just change the behavior of your browser in some way or another. The behavior is usually described in a blurb before you actually install it.

Each browser has a different portfolio of these tiny programs available for use (though Internet Explorer probably has the fewest). They are updated all the time. If you’re trying to do something in a browser, check out the add-ins. Annoyed by a particular behavior of a browser (e.g. do you always get a message about cookies being installed on this site or that site)? Find an extension that blocks or changes that behavior.

Each of the main browsers has its own catalog:

List of addons for Mozilla

List of Chrome extensions

Internet Explorer Add-On Gallery

List of Safari Extensions

Here are directions to installing add-ins/extensions/plug-ins by browser:

Installing Internet Explorer Add-Ons

Installing Chrome Extensions

Installing Firefox Add-Ons

Installing Safari Extensions

GMail and Google Users BEWARE of this scam!

Yikes! It’s been way too long. So sorry…trust me, I have tons of stuff to share, just not enough time to write :-).

That said, I just came across this article today – outlining a new, active and SUCCESSFUL scam to steal your Google/Gmail credentials and essentially, hack your life.

Basically, you get an email which LOOKS like it is from someone you know. You click on the image and it LOOKS like the Google signon. The word ‘Google’ even appears in the url. But BEWARE: It is NOT Google’s signon screen. You’ve moved to the hackers site.

The REAL Google signin screen starts with:
Other words/letters/numbers/characters may follow the .com, but there is NOTHING BEFORE THE https://accounts. That is the critical difference.

We’re getting smarter/more savvy about avoiding “evil” sites, so they have to get smarter/more savvy to draw you in. Don’t get sucked into this particular hack.

Safe browsing, everyone!

Ransomware Viruses spreading quickly

Hi, All –

I know…I’ve been AWOL. It’s just been very busy. Not bad, just busy. Unfortunately, there’s a new threat to your computer and your data that is emerging (and growing rapidly) that compels me to actually ACT on writing a blog post, rather than just THINKING about it!

You may have heard the term ‘Ransomware’ on the news lately. This is serious business, and anyone, using any type of device can be vulnerable. Avoiding it isn’t as hard as you think, but you do need to PAY ATTENTION!

First, what is ‘Ransomware’. Ransom-ware is a kind of malware which prevents you from accessing the data you have stored on your computer. The malware ENCRYPTS (i.e. locks) ALL OF YOUR DOCUMENTS, EMAILS, PHOTOS, MUSIC – ANY data files you have on your computer, USB, External Hard Drive, and sometimes even your ENTIRE computer, programs and all (yes, this applies to servers, as well). Once it has infected the machine, it publishes a note of some sort forcing you to pay a ransom (thus, the ‘ransom-ware’ nomenclature) to get your data UNENCRYPTED (i.e. unlocked). (Wikipedia has a good description here).

How do you get infected? Typically, Ransom-ware operates by YOU clicking on an ATTACHMENT from someone – even potentially someone you know. The attachments are typically disguised (i.e. named) as invoices, shipping information, or some other innocuous name. These guys/gals (the “baddies”) are GOOD at what they do. They masquerade as people you know (friends, family, business colleagues). Once the malware is on your computer, it can scrape your email addresses (yes, even if you don’t save contacts to an address book), then pretend to be you and send the infection on before locking down your system, so you can’t get to YOUR data.

If you’re not expecting an invoice/shipping/whatever info from that person/business, do NOT open it. Call or email the person who sent it (using a clean, fresh email if you’re going to email) and ask them if they sent you an invoice or shipping documents or whatever. If they say ‘no’, DELETE, DELETE, DELETE!!!! Then, empty your trash can (i.e. deleted emails).

If you DO get infected, then you have two choices: One, pay the ransom (and they’re NOT cheap – we heard of one organization paying tens of thousands of dollars to get the key to unlock their data). Two, recover from a backup that was done PRIOR to you clicking on the email attachment. The backup should NOT be connected to your computer via a cable, or it, too, may have been encrypted. Contact your computer support person/organization to find the best backup system for you…one that won’t be susceptible to this type of attack.

Of course, your best protection against any type of attack is to use your head before opening ‘strange’ emails (even ‘strange’ emails from your friends) and having GOOD anti-virus/anti-malware software. You may not like paying for it, but it is critical in this day and age. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish! A good anti-virus/anti-malware software will warn you before opening…of course, you can ignore the warning, but…well, we go back to using your head and THINKING!!! If you do that, you should be safe.

Be safe out there!!

Do you hesitate to view a LinkedIn profile because that person will know you’ve checked it out?

I don’t know about you, but this “Big Brother” world kind of creeps me out sometimes. I’m old school. I’m more used to privacy.

Most weeks I’ll get an email from LinkedIn that says ‘Hey, check out the people who’ve viewed your profile’, and they show me THOSE PEOPLE’s profiles…plus, they try to get me to upgrade to LinkedIn Premium to get even more information. It took me a little while to realize this (not sure why…I just wasn’t thinking), but it suddenly dawned on me that if I can see that THEY viewed MY profile, then someone else can see that I viewed THEIR profile…and I may not want them to know that.

One time, I even had someone call me after I looked at their profile saying, “I saw that you looked up my profile on LinkedIn, can we chat…”. That really creeped me out. I didn’t know the guy at all…I was checking out his profile because someone ELSE had asked me an opinion on his credentials.

If I’m checking out a potential client, brushing up on who’s who before an important meeting (which you should ALWAYS do), checking out a potential employee’s profile, I don’t necessarily want them to know that I’ve been checking them out…so, I started thinking twice before checking out someone’s LinkedIn profile. Unfortunately, then I feel less prepared than I would have otherwise.

I was delighted when I found out about a Privacy Setting in LinkedIn that lets you adjust whether or not people get the details when you’ve checked out their profiles. YEAH!!!

It’s an easy (if hidden) setting…check it out…it only takes a second to adjust…honestly.

First, sign into LinkedIn.
Second, click on your photo (it’s on the top-right side of the screen).
You’ll see this set of selections:
Third, select the choice labeled ‘Select what others see when they’ve viewed your profile’
Once in this screen, pick your choice of ‘stealthness’
Don’t forget to SAVE!!

That’s it. You’re done. You can view LinkedIn profiles without people knowing that you’ve done it (or at least without them getting too much information about you).

Time to stop saying “Microsoft never does anything for me” – seriously

I have a love/hate relationship with technology…as longtime readers of this blog know, I’m ‘of a certain age’…let’s just say that there were no such things as video games when I was a kid and be done with it. So, I’m a technology immigrant – technology landed in my world without asking my permission(!), or asking if I needed it to be there…it just showed up…and, for the most part, it came with a Microsoft emblem blazing the way (that’s because I never did get the video game “thing”, so I can NEVER speak authoritatively, or even un-authoritatively, on video games).

Microsoft has so many products these days (for example, are you aware that Microsoft owns Skype?) that it’s hard to keep up with what they control, much less really understand what it all does. So, as I travel between my clients, I spend alot of time speaking with the IT folks about what they’re using, what they like, what do I need to know about because it is careening my way, etc. Bless one of these dear souls for sending me a link to the mother-load of Microsoft information…

Free Microsoft e-books

Yes, you can come to this page and search for a particular Microsoft product and probably find some assistance…from the very simple (and yet extremely useful):

Excel 2013 Keyboard Shortcuts
Word 2013 Keyboard Shortcuts

Then, there are quickstart guides to most of the Office applications – taking a glance at these, even for an experienced users, isn’t a bad idea…I already saw a thing or two that I’d forgotten.

to the more complex (quite frankly, I don’t even know what this title means, but it sounds impressive!):

Microsoft System Center: Designing Orchestrator Runbooks
Microsoft Azure Essentials Azure Machine Learning

The quickest way to find one of these e-books on a topic you want is to click the “Free Microsoft ebooks” link above or this link (it’s the same one):

I’m giving away millions of free Microsoft ebooks…

Then, hit CTRL+F (that means, hold down the “CTRL” key on your keyboard, then hit the “F” key while you’re holding down the CTRL key)…that will open up a search (find) screen. Enter in the word you’re searching for (e.g. Windows 8.1 or Excel) and hit ‘enter’…that will take you to the location of the first occurrence of the word/phrase you entered. See if that ebook can help. If it sounds interesting, click on the link under the image and download it. If that one doesn’t look like a match for you, hit enter again…the cursor will relocate to the next place those words appear. Rinse and repeat! Search away…and remember, don’t say that Microsoft isn’t trying (at least trying) to help you better understand their products!

Happy hunting! Tell me your favorites once you’ve found them!

Some funny things happened on the way to installing Adobe Reader…

Where does the time go? Somehow, I think I got buried under the winter…I must have been mentally hibernating. Sorry, gang. Didn’t mean to abandon you!

I’ve been having an…ummmm…interesting time with Adobe, in particular, Adobe Reader, lately. You know Adobe Reader…that ubiquitous program that allows you to read PDFs. 9 times out of 10, if you’re on a page that has a PDF, there’s also a note which says ‘download the free Adobe Reader here’, or words to that effect. That ‘Adobe Reader’ allows you to open up those PDF documents and interact with them.

So, whenever I get a new computer, one of the ‘to dos’ on my list is to download Adobe Reader…until recently. I was setting up a new machine and trying to install Adobe Reader when I hit that proverbial ‘wall’, and the installation file just wouldn’t, well, install. It would hang…or fail…or otherwise indicate that it really wasn’t working. I got annoyed.

I’m well aware that it is CRITICAL to update Adobe Reader (and any of the ‘free’ Adobe products) when the patches come out because these ubiquitous programs are FULL of security risks…don’t use old installation files…don’t use old versions…Adobe plugs one hole and another one opens up. The ‘bad guys’ spend lots of time trying to crack Adobe Reader, find the loopholes and flaws because almost every computer has it installed – therefore, just by having it installed, you’re more prone to attack. I don’t like that.

I got frustrated…very, very FRUSTRATED…so, I went looking for an alternative…Yes, you can use OTHER PROGRAMS to open/read PDFs. You do NOT need Adobe Reader. You can even find ones with more features, and which consume less of your system resources, too!

This terrific article in PCWorld gave me a good summary:

As Brad Chacos writes, “Ditch the PDF headaches”…so I took his advice and I did.

I tried all three of the suggestions he had and settled on Nitro…the free version (there’s a paid version, as well, but you don’t need it unless you want additional features). It is “light” in computer software terms – it doesn’t consume alot of system resources. It allows me to open multiple PDF’s in a ‘tabbed’ format (I like that). It has a good search feature. Bingo! We have a winner!

Best feature: It doesn’t appear that Nitro is in the hacker’s crosshairs. Oh yeah, it also installed!

Which device should I choose? How do I choose?

Time for another post, this one quick, from my 87-year-old Uncle’s. It is absolutely amazing that when I sit down with him, the blog topics just present themselves. Why? Because he’s 87, but doesn’t consider himself too old to learn technology. He’ll tackle most any technology…head-on. Is he always successful? No…but he tries!

So, I’m sitting here and from my chair in the living room, I can see a laptop (15″), an iPad mini, an original Kindle, a Kindle Fire, a Dell Venue (tablet), a netbook, an iPad (2nd gen). Wow. They all work. They all get use. Hmmm…listen carefully…THEY-ALL-GET-USE.

I spent a day or so watching him navigate between the devices…a little while on the iPad mini, a little while on the Dell, a longer time on the laptop. Finally, I HAD TO KNOW…why did he switch between devices? “Because”, came the simple answer, “each one does something different well.”

This, my dear friends is a lesson. Despite the marketing materials posted by each and every manufacturer that THEIR device and ONLY their device can solve all of your problems, it is really much more likely that one device or another is better for your depending on what you need to do.

So, before falling in love with a device just because it is ‘cute’ or ‘sexy’, decide what you actually want to DO on it, then evaluate that particular devices ability to handle that need. I’ve seen too many people disappointed in their iPad because it’s hard to manage their Microsoft Office docs in the way that they want. Or, people don’t like the Surface because it is a heavier than the iPad and they want to hold it with one hand while walking a job site. Or, a particular app or software won’t install because it is incompatible with Android. The list of disappointment goes on and on.

Before purchasing a new device (and face it, the upcoming holiday season is a prime device purchasing time), write down the top five USES you see for the new device, then make sure that the device does those functions well BEFORE you send your loved one on a wild-goose chase! They’ll thank you later…and the monetary investment will be worth it because the new device won’t just gather dust.

Bottom line: Don’t have unrealistic expectations about what ONE device can do. Maybe more than one device makes sense…maybe not. It all depends on your needs.

Another warning: Do NOT open PowerPoint Presentations from Strangers

Somehow, this seems appropriate during Halloween week…lots of warnings…lots of ‘be careful where you get your candy from’…Lots of ‘only trick-or-treat at houses you know’…that kind of thing.

Well, as we all know, the same sort of caution applies to entering ‘unknown places’ on your computer – be it opening emails from strangers (be careful), attachments from strangers (don’t do it), documents you find randomly surfing the web (be very, very cautious before doing it).

Enter the latest in the ‘Oh no, security on your computer isn’t all that’ string of potential threats that are out there.

Microsoft, yes Microsoft (it’s exploited most frequently because more machines are Microsoft than any other operating system), has discovered a POTENTIAL (this doesn’t mean you WILL or HAVE been compromised – just be aware) PowerPoint security flaw which could allow a stranger to totally take over your computer.

Thanks to TechCrunch for the head’s up! Click here for their excellent article by Greg Kumparak. For Microsoft’s security disclosure, click here (but it’s much duller than TechCrunch’s)

Here’s the low-down:

1. If you’re on ANY version of Windows, you’re probably affected

2. You have to open an infected PowerPoint (PPT or PPTX) presentation to have the vulnerability rear its ugly head.

3. The bug is part of the PowerPoint program which enables you to embed Excel files and the like inside of your presentations…that’s called OLE (‘Object Linking and Embedding’ for those of you who care about such things)…the bad guys do something to exploit a flaw in the security of such things and infect your computer along the way.

4. If the ‘bad thing’ runs, then the hackers can take over your computer as if they were the user who launched the PowerPoint presentation. What does this mean? Well, if you are like many of us with a laptop on which only YOU work, then you are an ADMINISTRATOR and can do ANYTHING on the computer…that means that the ‘bad guys’ will be an administrator too. If you’re on a Network, you’re not immune…it is just less likely that you’re an Administrator (and therefore, the bad guys have less access during an attack – they ‘captured’ a private instead of a general). If the evil ones invade, your Network Administrator will have to deal with the fallout.

5. One way to give you WARNING before just blithely opening random Powerpoint file is to ENABLE ‘User Account Control’ (available on Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2 and later). You can find this feature by searching for ‘User Account Control’. This is the screen:
Make sure that your settings are set to ‘Always Notify’ (I’ll admit, mine were NOT because I find the warnings so annoying, but I changed them back)…THEN, THINK TWICE before saying ‘yes, open this document’…because an innocent PowerPoint presentation should NOT be changing your system.

6. If you maintain your own system, then go to this Windows link and install the ‘FixIt’ patch…it will fix 15 of the 18 possible combinations of Office and supported Windows environments.

As always, people, be ALERT. We tell our kids to be alert on Halloween, but we need to be alert on our computers ALL THE TIME. If you don’t remember asking someone for a particular PowerPoint presentation, if you don’t know the person who wrote it, if you found a presentation on the web, if you don’t know the author/sender then DO NOT open that Presentation. STOP. Ask the person who sent it to you (if you know them) if they really DID send it to you. A minute of double-checking can save you HOURS of heartache…just ask all the people who have been sucked into the Windows scam or electric company charades or opened infected PDF’s.