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Safe Surfing on Public WiFi

Here at Greystone, we support a very wide client base, ranging across all sorts of industries: construction, professional services, non-profits, education, banking, accounting and C.P.A. firms, software and technology, oil/gas and energy, municipalities, and even a golf course.  And on and on it goes.

Free Wi-Fi ChalkBut there’s one thing that we all share in common these days: we’re all regularly accessing public Wi-Fi networks.

Public Wi-Fi access to the Internet has become ubiquitous.  At airports, hotels, coffee shops, department stores, restaurants and more, public Wi-Fi is so common it feels like a right. We expect it everywhere, and we expect it to work and to be fast.

And this is an absolutely amazing thing.

BUT! How safe is it to use these networks?  What are the risks?

The ubiquity of public Wi-Fi has lulled many of us into a false sense of security about the safety of using these networks, and so we’d like to help clarify the situation and offer a couple of tips for safer surfing.

First, it should be noted that there are several different kinds of public Wi-Fi networks: free and unsecured, free and password protected, paid and secured, etc., and a discussion of these different types of networks lies beyond the scope of this post.  And, in reality, if it’s a public Wi-Fi network, you should simply assume that what you’re doing is visible to someone/anyone.  Just because you have to ask the barista at the coffee shop for a password does NOT mean that they’re vetting every customer about whether or not they’re perpetrating cyber-crime.

Second, there are several ways for the bad guys to try and get at your info, with such nefarious names as “Man in the Middle Attacks” and “Packet Sniffers.”  Again, a full treatment of such bad guy tactics is beyond the scope of our conversation here.  And again, it doesn’t matter much what they’re trying to do; the reality is that if you’re on a public Wi-Fi network, you should assume that the bad guys are watching.

Third, there’s some measure of comfort in the remote likelihood of being the victim of cyber-crime, but “remote likelihood” is little comfort if it does actually happen to you.  The chances of someone sniffing out your email password on a public network are remote, but they are also very real.  And there’s a lot that someone could do with your email password.

So, what is one to do?  Here are a few suggestions:

Set Passcodes and Passwords
Take the time to set passcodes on your mobile devices and good passwords on your laptops.  The reason you NEED to do this NOW is that your biggest danger doesn’t come from “packet sniffing” or “men in the middle” or any such thing.  The biggest danger is shockingly low-tech: someone simply stealing your mobile device or your laptop, opening it up and getting your info because it wasn’t protected.  Just stop and think about all of the information that’s on your phone, or your laptop and imagine what a thief might be able to do with it.

Yes, it’s a pain to have to enter a passcode on your phone, especially when you let your kids play games on it.  BUT, it’s also a pain to put your seatbelt on every time you drive, too… and you do that, don’t you?

(And while you’re setting that passcode on your phone, go ahead and enable the “erase all data after 10 failed attempts” feature, too.)

Beware of “Shoulder Surfing”
Another danger of using your technology in public is amazingly low-tech… and that’s someone simply looking over your shoulder and watching what you do.  Yes, you need to set a passcode on a phone, but you also need to be careful about how visibly you enter that passcode in public.  Think about flying in a plane, and how close you are to others, and how easy it’d be to determine that 4 or 5 digit passcode. (Not that any of us have ever done it… just to, you know… see if we could…)

Use Your Security Tools
Your computer is equipped with some basic tools to make your computing safer.  Turn off “automatically join networks,” since many bad guys use familiar network names for their purposes. Turn off file sharing.  Turn on your firewall.  Make sure your antivirus is active.  Enabling these basic features go a long way towards making things better.

Surf Smart
Once you’re on a public network, just be smart and reasonable. Don’t do your online banking.  Don’t do your online shopping.  If you absolutely HAVE to get on a site and enter your credentials, make sure it’s an HTTPS site.  It’s okay to check sports scores or read online magazines, absolutely.  Just be careful of doing anything that’s super sensitive.

The chances of becoming a victim of some sort of cyber-crime are quite low, and it’s a big, bustling Internet out there… just be smart about how you navigate around it!

And as always, let us know if you have any questions.  We’re here to help!

Backup Solutions for Personal Use

By Daniel Ross, Technical Engineer

All too often, people don’t realize the importance of having a good backup plan for all of their digital files until after suffering a massive data loss. While most companies have a backup that is automated for the users, such as Greystone’s Total Rescue offering, you may not have something at home.  With more and more of our day lives becoming digital we need to have something to keep all our great content protected from viruses, device hardware failure, lighting strikes, directory issues, theft, fire, flood and the one I see the most Human Error – which I’ve experienced and caused for myself.

Personally, I have multiple backup options now after experiencing data loss a several years ago.  At that time, I was sure I had my backup in place, but I hadn’t realized I had excluded a folder that contained some images from my wedding, as they weren’t in my photo organization software program.  I was able to get back these files, but only after some hard work and significant out of pocket expense. From that moment on I knew I had to help myself from future data loss, along with spreading the good word to others about solid backup strategies and knowledge.

For the most part, computers now come with some sort of basic backup software and or option within the OS (Time Machine on Mac and Windows Backup on most versions of windows).  While this a great quick and easy backup some users may want to have more control and or options as to what type of backup they create.  Below are some types of backup options and products that can meet those needs.

Incremental Backup
Most computers offer this as a built in option through the OS like I have mentioned.  Other Third-Party products also offer this but allow for the user to fine tune the locations of the backup (i.e. Network Drive, USB Drive and even CD/DVD) as well as the options to schedule the backups to run when they want as well as opposed to say time machines automatic schedule. 

How I use it: I use this type of backup for data that changes often and is important for me to have a current backup of at all times and I’ll use this for my photo library and some of my financial documents as these are critical for me to have.

Clone Backup
This is a great option for disaster recovery or when even getting a new computer or moving to a bigger internal Hard Drive.  Clone backups are a 1 for 1 copy of your drive including all the behind the scenes bits that are hidden by the OS.  With this option you could backup your computer and upgrade to a bigger drive and then put this clone back in place on your computer and be right where you left off.

How I use it:  I’ll use this for my monthly backups as well as for disaster recovery in the even that my main computer dies as well as in case of Fire/Flood. I typically will keep a copy offsite or in a fire safe for emergency purposes.  Typically I’ll purchase a couple separate external drives that are dedicated to this and rotate them as to not additional wear to the drives.  Drive prices are dropping and you can now typically get a 1TB Drive for around $150 on many online sites.

Cloud Backup
This option allows you to access your files from any place and is pretty common to find as an add-on to some third party products. Services like BackBlaze, Mozy and Carbonite are great offsite cloud backups.  With this option you are typically going to get a copy of your data and possibly an incremental option.  Most of these services also offer you remote access to your files in case you’re not near your computer and also offer greater levels of protection including HIPAA standards for data storage.  Some services will also offer you unlimited storage and premium options such as mirrored backup to a local external drive and courier service to your home should something bad happen.

How I use it:  I’m personally using Carbonite on the basic yearly plan for all my offsite backups and have found it to be a good experience.  Down the road I can always upgrade to the higher end plans and back down as needed.

When selecting your backup options give yourself room to grow! In the future as media files from our phones, cameras and other sources start to increase in size you will want your backup to be able to hold that as well.  I always recommend getting a backup device that’s bigger than your internal drive, or even doubling it.  You can find a wide variety of Network Storage options online for multiple computers that allow you to add drives down the road and or swap out for bigger ones.  USB Thumb sticks are not always a sure bet for backup and should only be used to store stuff you wouldn’t mind losing. Also on a similar note take some time to take inventory of what you can move off your computer to CD/DVD or an “Archive drive” that you’re not using any longer file wise as this can free up a lot of space in general on your computer and make your backups even smaller and quicker.

In summary a good way to think about data backup is this:  What is the most important thing in your car?  Most people never think of this but it’s you and your family!  Things like your windows and doors and tires can be replaced but you can’t be.  I always tell people you will regret it when you don’t have it, so don’t end up regretting not setting some simple things up to ensure you don’t lose your data.

Making Safe Purchases Online

by David Ferszt, IT Consultant

As online purchasing is becoming more and more common, many people are being forced to pay by plastic and hope their information is safe.

There are few things you should know to help protect yourself.  First, you should only make your purchases from a computer that you know does not have a virus or keylogger.  Also I would recommend avoiding doing any purchasing on a non-secure network such as Starbucks WiFi.  Be familiar with or do some research on any website you are about to give your credit information to as well.  Places like Amazon and Staples are fairly safe, but when in doubt, search for reviews about the website on Google.

When sending any type of confidential information across the internet, it is also very wise to make sure that the website begins with https vs http.  The “S” stands for secure (the HTTP stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol…there will be a test later!).  The S denotes that there is some level of encryption happening between the user and the server.  You will notice that most login pages are https; including banks, email servers, and even Facebook.  When making purchases, aside from ensuring the website is HTTPS, you should also pay exclusively with credit cards.

There are also many differences in using credit vs. debit cards.  Consumer liability on credit card cards are often less than that of their debit card counterparts.  In addition to liability, in the event of fraudulent charges, you do not have to wait for your bank to reimburse you if you paid by credit card.  Most important is to check your statements frequently for accuracy.

TIP: Opt out of all tracking cookies

While it’s no secret that Greystone employees love their baked goods, we draw the line when it comes to a more obnoxious type of cookie – the online tracking variety.

But wouldn’t you know it, tracking cookie companies – as a gesture of good faith – allow you to opt out of their tracking services. Tracking cookies are used by online advertisers to track your online activity between different websites so they can better sell you to their clients. While this won’t prevent you from receiving web ads, the network from which you opted out will no longer deliver ads tailored to your Web preferences and usage patterns, nor will they be tracking your online activity. Just head on over to this link and opt out of the companies you don’t want to track you.

*Photo source.

5 tips for keeping your smartphone secure.

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1. Set a password.

Setting a strong password on your phone will keep thieves, borrowers, and anyone not approved to use your phone from accessing your personal information. A good default time for allowing the screen to auto-lock is around 5 minutes of inactivity.

2. Download updates for your phone.

You’re probably used to seeing the occasional update message. Updating your phone when prompted will keep security flaws patched and keep your system as current as possible.

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