Tag Archives: security

Upgrading Your Digital Life

By Tracey Dowdy

Time to turn over a new leaf. There’s no time like the present. New year, new start. Had enough of clichés yet?

In truth, it is time to turn over a new leaf and there really is no time like the present. In fact, if you’ve been hitting “Remind me later” every time a software update appears on your screen or you have to scroll through dozens of spam emails before you get to what you actually need, you’re long overdue for an update. By following a few simple steps and with a little effort, it’s easy to streamline and get yourself back on track to an upgraded digital life.

Take the time to update your software. Not only will updated software make your computer run more smoothly, it will save you the aggravation of having to stop and install updates when you’re tasked with a project that requires the latest version. Remember – running outdated software is a security risk. Newer versions will have security patches to fill in the gaps and keep you protected.

While you’re updating and protecting your security, get a grip on your passwords. If you’re not doing so already, start using a password manager. Apps like LastPass will create strong passwords and then store them in an encrypted database.

Get rid of files, folders, pictures, videos, email, programs… anything that’s taking up space and cluttering up your computer. One option is to invest in an external hard drive to store your photos and videos or anything else you want to hang on to but don’t need access to on a regular basis. A second, more accessible option is to take advantage of cloud storage. Both Chrome (Download to Dropbox) and Firefox (Save Link to Folder) offer extensions that allow you to upload directly to Dropbox instead of downloading the program to your computer.

Did you know a cluttered desktop actually slows down your computer? Get rid of shortcuts you don’t use and organize files or images into folders. Similarly, when browsing online use an app like OneTab to condense all your open tabs into one list. When you need access, click on individual links or restore them all at once.

Clear out your inbox. My friend Brenda has 27,000 unread emails. Not going to lie – I died a little, cried a little, just typing that. The easiest way get your email organized is to archive messages you want to hang on to or delete messages you won’t need again. I recommend clearing out email in groups. I search my Gmail for sites like Pinterest and once the list is loaded, Select All and then Delete. Another great tip is to use Unroll.me to unsubscribe from multiple sites at once. Once you sign up you’ll see a list of all your subscription emails and you simply choose the ones you want to unsubscribe from. I had 137 lists I was subscribed to and got rid of an even 100 of them in about 2 minutes.

Cut the cord. Cord cutting is the trend of disconnecting from traditional cable and satellite packages and taking advantages of services like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, Apple TV and Amazon Prime. The average cable bill is approximately $123 a month or $ 1,476 per year – that’s a lot of money. Depending on your viewing habits, dropping cable and taking advantage of online and streaming services may be a better – and cheaper – alternative. Check out this guide to see if cord cutting is an option for you.

Once you’ve got yourself organized and upgraded, keep it up. Once a week, once a month – whatever works for you – do a little housekeeping. It takes time and effort, but like anything worthwhile, you’ll be glad you did it. Remember: New year, new start.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

A Connected Home Is A Safer Home

By Robyn Wright

Mobile technology allows us to connect devices not only for entertainment but also to make our homes safer. These products connect via our home networks but we can also access them online at work or using our smartphones and tablets from just about anywhere in the world.

If you are a frequent traveler, have kids or older relatives at home, or you just want feel safer and more secure, then here are a few connected devices that might help:

Dropcam Pro

dropcam-pro200If you need an extra set of eyes in your home, the Dropcam Pro might be just what you’re looking for. Just set it up in the desired location and connect it to your home network. Dropcam Pro has both a camera and built-in mic and speaker, so you can see and hear what’s happening and even communicate with people in the room. Night vision allows you to see in the dark and you can schedule the Dropcam Pro to send you email alerts when it detects motion or sound. You can even backup recordings to the cloud, so you can watch them later.


Nest Protect

nest-protect200You may have heard of Nest thermostats but Nest also makes a smoke and carbon monoxide detector called Nest Protect. One of the best features of Nest Protect is that it doesn’t just beep at you when there’s a problem; it also adds a human voice to give you additional information. For example, It can tell you if there is smoke or carbon monoxide and in what room. Studies have shown that children can sleep through beeping alarms, so the human voice warning can help wake your children in the event of an emergency. Just like the Nest thermostat, the Nest Protect works with an app, so you can check in when you are away from home. Nest Protect even includes some tips on what to do in case of an emergency.


Belkin WeMo Light Switch

belkin_wemo200Back in the old days, we could plug lamps into bulky timers to make them go on and off at certain times. While they served a purpose, we now have much smarter devices that can act as timers and more. The Belkin WeMo Light Switch is Wi-Fi enabled and allows you to turn lights on and off from anywhere, including another room, the backyard, or even from the beach when you are on vacation.With the smartphone app, you can check to see if the lights are on or off, program the lights to turn on and off at sunrise and sunset, and more. On the wall the Belkin WeMo Light Switch is backlit, so it makes it easier to find in the dark. Think of the electricity you can save by turning off the lights that the kids left on – again.


Kwikset Kevo

kwikset-kevo200The Kwikset Kevo is the latest in smart locks from a company that has been around for years. With the new Kevo, you can still use a traditional key but you can also use your smartphone via the Kevo app or specially programmed key fob if the younger members of your family don’t have a smartphone. This makes it easier than fumbling for traditional keys. If you need to let in the repairman or the babysitter, you can create an “electronic key” and send it to the individual’ smartphone. The Kevo comes in a choice of different finishes and it uses multiple levels of encryption to ensure the electronic signal can’t be duplicated.


Tagg Pet Tracker

tagg-pettracker200-1Connected devices can even help keep your pets secure. The Tagg Pet Tracker attaches to your pet’s collar and uses GPS location and wireless technology to help find your pet using a computer or mobile device. Tagg can also alert you by text message or email if your pet strays from a pre-set boundary like a backyard or park. Once you receive the alert, you can quickly pinpoint your pet’s location on a map. If that wasn’t enough, you can even use it to track your pet’s activity to see if they are getting enough exercise!


HTC Fetch

HTC-fetch200How often do you misplace your keys? Attach the HTC Fetch to your key ring (or anything else you want to keep tabs on) and you can quickly tap on the app to find them via Google Maps. If you misplace your phone, you can press the button on the Fetch and it will activate your phone’s ringtone if it is within a 50 feet radius.

These are just a few of the many connected devices that can make us all feel safer and more secure in our homes.

Robyn Wright is a social media specialist and blogs on her own blog, RobynsOnlineWorld.com, as well as several other sites. Robyn has a love for family, technology, food and lots of apps!

What you should do about the Target data breach

Target today provided an update on the customer information data breach that was first disclosed last month. Instead of the 40 million individuals that were originally thought to be impacted by the breach, the number has now reached 70 million and is still climbing, with stolen information including names, mailing addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses.

The company stressed that this latest discovery was not the result of a new breach but rather was uncovered as part of the ongoing investigation into the original data theft. The unauthorized access took place between November 27th and December 15th, 2013 and potentially impacted every customer who used a payment card at any of the 1,800 U.S.-based Target stores during that timeframe.

As part of the latest announcement, Target again stressed that customers will not be responsible for fraudulent charges, although that offers little comfort to the millions of individuals who now realize they have been exposed to wholesale identity theft as well as credit and debit card fraud.

So if you are a Target customer, what should you do to protect yourself? Well, there are a few simple steps you can take and some that are a little more complicated. Here’s a quick run through of the recommended actions:

Check your statements

The first step is to thoroughly check your bank and credit card statements to make sure you haven’t already been subjected to fraudulent activity. As The New York Times reported, there was a ten- to twentyfold increase in the number of high-value stolen payment cards on black market web sites immediately following the Target data breach. While Target released a statement on December 20th saying it was aware of only a few incidents of unlawful activity, criminals will often wait until the early security scare has died down before initiating those first fraudulent transactions.

Cancel your card

This is a hard thing to do – it can be a huge inconvenience – but it’s a very important step in protecting both your credit and your identity. As suggested above, it’s easy to get a false sense of security when those fraudulent charges don’t show up in the first couple of weeks but that’s what the bad guys are relying on.

If you replace your card, go back over your credit or debit card statements for the last 12 months and make a note of all the automatic monthly payments and direct debits. They can include anything from Netflix fees to your iTunes account to domain name registrations. I replaced a commonly used credit card early last year and I am still getting notices from various service providers about declined charges.

Even though it’s an inconvenience, replacing the impacted payment card is the right thing to do. The data on that card has been compromised and it’s all too easy for that information to fall into the wrong hands.

Check your credit reports

If you don’t already check your credit reports, then this is the perfect opportunity to start doing so. Although you can request a free credit report from the three main credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, this will only give you a once-a-year snapshot of your credit picture. If you’re at risk from the Target data breach, it would be better to engage a credit monitoring service, which will automatically notify you of any change to your credit status, however minor.

In fact, as part of its response to the data breach, Target is offering customers free credit monitoring and identity theft protection. Although details of the plan have yet to be released, the service will include complimentary credit reports, daily credit monitoring, identity theft insurance, and access to personalized assistance. While some customers might balk at the thought of handing over social security numbers and additional personal information to a company that was the target of one of the biggest ever data thefts, it is definitely something worth considering.

In summary, close monitoring of all your financial transactions and credit history is the key to coming out of this unscathed, and doing nothing is the worst possible option. Not surprisingly, Target is heavily engaged in damage control right now and you should be doing the same.