Tech Tip: Automatic Alerts to your phone to stay connected

#TechTip for news junkies, set up news alerts to your phone for breaking stories or to stay up to date on current events

News is breaking every day all over.  Staying on top of it can be a full time job.  Whether you are a news junkie, or just want to know whats happening the world, breaking news alerts are a great tool to help you connect with the world around you.

Many news sites offer breaking news alerts or subscription services.  This usually involves setting up an account on the news website and telling them what you are interested in.  CBC News, for example, offers their subscription service that will email you alerts based on what you have requested.  They offer everything from Breaking news, to news digests based on the geographical area you are most interested in.  Email alerts will arrive in your inbox so you don’t have to keep refreshing their website every 5 minutes to see if something new has happened in the world.

If you want something a little more immediate and you have a specific topic you want news on, consider getting the news right from the source.  Many journalists get breaking news from the Canadian News Wire, which offers press releases for businesses and organizations.  When a company or government has something to say in Canada, they will often issue press releases.  Setting up an account and planning what you want to get news about is a great way to stay on top of a story before it even breaks in the news.

I have also said many times, one of the best ways to get breaking news is through Twitter.  Before news breaks on TV, often people are talking about it and sharing it.  Not only is it a great way to find breaking news, its also great to follow ongoing stories.  During major events, update can often be found on the Twitter accounts of those closest to the story.  During recent storms and environmental emergencies, Governments and organizations provided updates on their twitter feeds to keep the public up to date on what was going on.  Over the summer, for example, when a major storm caused flooding and power outages in the Greater Toronto Area, local power utilities were issuing statements saying what areas were without power and where crews were working to restore.  Their social media teams did a good job responding to requests for information and providing updates.

Keeping updated is easy, but filtering information so only the right information comes at the right time is critical to avoid information overload.

TechTip: Using 2 Factor Authentication for secure access to websites

#TechTip Use 2 factor authentication for the websites that have it. Makes it that much harder to hack & will alert you if someone tries

We continue our week of Password protection in our Tech Tips blog for the week.  As we mentioned the past few days, changing your password is important, and choosing a password that is complex enough not to be broken easily is essential to online security.  Along with that, each online login should have its own password, and you should use a password manager to keep them all secured.

Today we look at 2 Factor authentication.  Many website are starting to implement this to increase security to its users by making it difficult for someone just with a password to access your account.

What is 2 Factor Authentication?

800px-SecureID_token_newThe concept behind 2 factor authentication is that you basically have 2 passwords: Your normal password, and a separately generated password that is given to you each time you log on, or an item that you must use to access your information.  You may be most familiar with 2 factor authentication in the corporate world using secure login tokens.  When a company needs you to log into their secure computer system, you will have to enter your password, as well as a code generated in the token key.  Typically these systems have been reserved for businesses who can afford the high security, but not it is becoming made available to average users through different means.

For portals like Gmail, Google has introduced 2 factor authentication using text messages sent to your smartphone.  When you activate it and log on, a text message with a 6 digit code is sent via SMS to your mobile phone.  You then enter that number into the next screen after your password and then you are let in.  The obvious benefit to this is that even if someone gets your password, they won’t be able to access your email unless they can also intercept that text message.

Twitter as well has added additional verification as a security feature to your twitter account.  Twitter has both SMS verification as well as a feature built into the Twitter app for Android and iOS phones which require you to have your smartphone when you log into Twitter.  This ensures that anyone wishing to access your account will need both your password and your smartphone to get in.  More information on Twitters additional verification features can be found on their Support page.

PayPal has its own version of 2 factor authentication which includes either SMS or a digital token.  When you log on to your enabled Paypal account, you will be asked for a second step.  You can either have an SMS message sent to your phone, or you can get one of their authentication tokens.  They use a credit card sized token that generates a new passcode every time you press the button on the card.  It costs a few dollars to get the card, but its good security if you don’t want to use the SMS feature.

If you are concerned about access to a particular site, you can look in their help sections to see if they provide additional sign in options that will give you the extra security you need.

Tech Tip: Use a Password manager to keep track of all those different logins

#TechTip Use a password manager to record all logins and have 1 master password to access it.

As we continue on with our theme this week of password safety, Lets talk about how to keep track of all those passwords.

Previously, we discussed about how many passwords you need.  As stated, its strongly suggested you have a different password for each online portal you access.  The reason of course being if one of your passwords is compromised, it won’t affect all of your online platforms.  Changing one password isn’t too bad;  changing 50 or 100 would be torture!

So with so many logins and passwords, how do you keep track of them all?

I strongly recommend getting some password management software.  Yes you could always go for the good ol’ notebook with everything written down, but what happens if you lose that book?  You can also keep track of them in a document or spreadsheet file.  They would be backed up, but not necessarily secure.  Unless the file is encrypted or password protected, then it is vulnerable to prying eyes.  Even if you do have an electronic document that is encrypted, searching through many logins could be arduous to find that one login you need.

There are a number of great programs available to help you manage your passwords. Lets take a quick look at some of them.

KeePass

KeePass screenshot

KeePass screenshot

Personally I am a fan of KeePass Password safe.  It is a program that requires a password to open it up and houses a database of all the logins, passwords and site URLs for the web portals you visit.  It stores lots of information, and allows you to generate a random password based on the criteria you ask of it.  So if you are having trouble thinking up random gibberish for your passwords, let this program take care of it for you.

You can sort your password into categories, such as for home, work passwords or online stores to help keep things organized.  If you have lots of passwords, there is also a search feature which will let you find your login credentials easily.

This is also one of the few programs that works on most platforms available.  It is free and Open Source, and there are versions that work on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iPhone/iPad, Blackberry and Windows Phone 7, as well as a portable version designed for USB drives.  They may have slightly different names for the different versions because each version is created a little differently to work with the Operating System it is designed for, and some are compatible with slightly different versions of the database, so do a little research with this one depending on what platform you have.

LastPass

Another popular program for managing your passwords is LastPass.  There is both a free version as well as a premium version which includes a mobile component.

Where KeePass is solely a single database of your passwords, LastPass also integrates with an online portion that manages and syncs up your passwords.  The database may be synced online, but the password key to unlocking it is always stored locally so there is little to no risk of having it hacked online in the cloud. It shares similar traits to KeePass, but can also track the sites you visit so it can auto populate logins and passwords where needed.

LastPass has gone to great lengths to have it work on as many browsers and operating systems as possible so you can be comfortable using it on multiples devices, even if they are different technology.  The premium cost is around $1/month

 

Ironkey

We will go into more depth on the Ironkey in a future blog post.  For those that know I am a fan of the Ironkey for its security, but it too also has a password manager built into it.  Like LastPass it can detect what site you are visiting and auto populate the login and password info you need.  It also has a virtual keyboard that can pop up so you can enter passwords using your mouse, thus preventing any key logger malware from detecting your passwords.  The Ironkey solution will be talked about more soon, so stay tuned for that.

Now you know a little more about how to keep your logins secure, and keep your passwords safe.  While it may take a while to go through and adjust all your passwords and log the entries into your password database, doing it once and only once is a savings than having to worry about doing it everytime you one and only password for everything is compromised.

Check out our blog again soon for more tips on security online and password protection.

Tech Tip: Use different passwords for all your online portals

#TechTip: use a different password for each online portal. It will limit your exposure if 1 password is compromised
Today’s Tech Tip blog continues on our theme from yesterday.  Passwords are making it back in the news after last weeks announcement that close to 2 million passwords were stolen from major web portals.  Yesterday we talked about what you should include in your password.  Today we cover how many passwords you need.
The short answer:  Lots!
Yes, it is easy to have 1 password that you use on everything.  Makes it easy to log into sites you don’t normally access and keeps everything nice and clean.  However the more sites you have with the same password means you are opening yourself up to a greater level of exposure.  It is important, especially on popular sites like Gmail, Facebook and Twitter (basically all high profile social media sites) to maintain different passwords for each site.
If you are afraid of remembering all your passwords, you can alter each password by only a few digits and make sure to can figure out which password is for each site.  Even better is is a completely different, random password for each site.
How do I remember all my passwords if you need me to have dozens or hundreds of different passwords?
That is the topic for our next blog post on password management.  Stay tuned.

Tech Tip: Change your passwords to ensure security

#TechTip: Change your passwords often. Don’t use words found in a dictionary or easy number combinations.

Last week, news broke of a major password breach on a number of major social media websites.  Close to 2 million passwords were accessed from sites like Gmail, Facebook and Twitter.  The security breach means if your password was compromised, you may be susceptible to attack from other hackers.

It is strongly advised that you change your passwords.  Even if you don’t think you were affected, its always good to change your passwords now and then for security.  This week, we are going to bring a series of tips and blogs on why security for your password is important and offer tips on what to do.

First for this week, lets talk about the actual password you use.  Do not use names, dates, or any word that can be found in a dictionary.  Even words that are linked together can be cracked.  If its found in a dictionary, it can be cracked.  It is strongly suggested that passwords contain the following elements:

  • Upper Case letters
  • Lower Case letters
  • Numbers
  • Punctuation
  • 8 or more characters

If you include these in your password, and they are not based on any dictionary words, chances are its a secure password.  Having said that, almost any password can be hacked by a skilled hacker.  The point is not to make an uncrackable code, but to create a code that would require so much effort for a potential hacker to crack that it wouldn’t be worth their time or resources to try.

Even with good strong passwords that can’t be easily cracked, its still suggested you change your passwords often.  Your login credentials for the sites you visit are usually kept in a database somewhere.  Its those databases that hackers tend to be attracted to.  If they manage to get in and steal a file containing many passwords, then all the complexity in the world won’t help you.  Simply changing your password will avoid any issues.

 

Tech Tip: Using Technology to Prepare those Holiday Lists

#TechTip: Technology can help prepare those holiday shopping lists. @evernote for lists or#Pintarest for gift and decoration ideas

Its not secret that I am a big fan of Evernote.  For those that don’t know what it is, Evernote is a note taking app that syncs across all your mobile devices and computers while making everything searchable.  It even incorporates traditional paper note taking and is able to bring it in to your electronic world.

When its time to make your shopping lists, I would recommend using either Evernote, or if you have a note taking program you are comfortable with, to make your holiday shopping lists.  Here’s why:

  • Don’t worry about losing your paper list with everyone’s gift ideas on it.  not only would it be hard to remember what you are getting everyone, but leaving it lying around may come under the scrutiny of those who’s names are on the list.
  • Add items to your list while working on your computer, and then easily access them while on the go
  • Use the camera function to take pictures of gift ideas and add them to your note, so everything is in one location. (Try adding a picture to the back of the envelope you wrote your list down on!)

On the topic of using your camera phone for gift ideas, another tool you can use this holiday season is Social Media.  Pinterest is a newer social media platform that has gained quite a bit of attraction since its launch.  Its purpose it to share images on a board, much like a bulletin board.  Once you log on, you can create a board where you can scour the internet for pictures of gift ideas, or use your camera to take pictures while out shopping.  This is great for making your preliminary list of things to get people, as well as making your own holiday wish list.  You can share your list or keep it private.  (Just know that once you make a private board public you can’t undo it).  Pinterest is also great for finding lots of holiday decorating ideas.

The holidays can be a stressful time, but hopefully if you start early, and use your connected technology properly, you can get through it quickly and stress free.

Tech Tip: Be cautious about posting vacation plans online

#TechTip: Be careful about what you post online over the holidays. Posted travel info can attract unwanted attention to your empty house.

The holidays are a great time for getting away from the cold to sunny spots down south.  Or maybe you’re planning a trip to visit family over the holidays.  Whatever your plans are, enjoy them.  Take lots of pictures.  Tell all your friends how great your trip was (or not so great, depending!) but just make sure to tell them AFTER you get back.

Social media is a wonderful tool to share your memories with friends and family about your travels and allow them to experience what you are in real time vicariously through you.  But this has also led to a number of unsavory individuals trolling the internet finding you your house is empty, and then proceeding to make sure your house is empty before you return home.

Here are a few tips to ensure you and your home are safe:

  • Don’t post your travel plans in advance on social media.  A tweet saying “Off to Cancun for the next week” might as well say “House is empty for the next week. Take what you want”
  • Know your Social media platforms. Twitter, Instagram and many others are public so anyone can see what you post.  Facebook and Google+ allow you to restrict who sees what posts.  If you are intending to post things online, choose outlets that reduce the likelihood of criminals finding out you are away
  • Foursquare is great for checking into places, especially when away, but make sure the list of people who follow you are actual friends, and don’t post your checkins to Twitter
  • Instagram is wonderful for sharing your pictures and videos, but again it is publicly accessible.  Save the pictures on your camera or smartphone until you have returned or are on your way home.
  • Make sure you have friends or neighbours checking on your place while you are gone.
  • Put lights on timers, or for those wanting to go the extra mile, set up a home automation system that you can remotely connect to while away

Don’t start the new year having to deal with insurance companies to replace all your home contents.  Take precautions and have an enjoyable trip.

 

Tech Tip: Eliminate faxes with a fax to email service

#TechTip: reduce the amount of wasted fax paper by converting over to a fax to email service. Easy to delete junk faxes. Saves paper too.

Fax machines are that one technology that sticks around despite having so many better solutions.  Ask a law office or a doctors office to get rid of their fax machine and they would just laugh.  While revolutionary at the time, the need for fax machines have waned over the last decade while scanners and email have taken over document transmission.  Fax quality is poor compared to other technology.  You can actually get a better quality document taking a photograph of your document with your camera phone and emailing it.  Yet despite this fax machines still remain a requirement for many businesses. 

If you accept the need to receive faxes bit hate the idea of a fax machine or dedicated phone line then its time go consider a fax to email service.  It provides the benefits of a fax line for receiving faxes without the hassle of a fax machine. 

How does it work?

You would still have a phone number dedicated for faxes but when a fax comes in the call is routed to a computer that converts the fax into a PDF and then emails it to you.  Doing this not only saves the hassle of a fax machine bit also all the paper associated with it.  Deleting a junk email is a lot easier than having a junk fax print and then have to be recycled. 

Even though you will have a dedicated fax number you don’t need an additional fax line.  There are many service available that will run the solution for you.  There is no additional equipment needed to be purchased for incoming faxes, although an investment in a modern phone system can be configured to handle faxes through your primary phone line.

If you also need to send a fax you have a couple of options.  Some services will allow you to print a PDF to their system and have them fax on your behalf.  Other solutions include using your existing analog phone line and a computer with modem plugged in sending the fax.  For those that do require a fax machine do sending, faxing with a voice over internet connection is possible to avoid the extra phone line costs, but tends not to be as reliable. 

The best solution is to convert over to non fax technology , but if you still require faxes for your business, consider these options to reduce your costs and frustrations.

Tech Tip: What are Hashtags and how can they be used?

#TechTip: Hashtags make your content searchable. You can also follow conversations by searching for a hashtag comment

Everyone from news stations to popular comedians have been talking about Hashtags recently, but for someone following from the outside, you may ask yourself: What exactly is a Hashtag?

Good Question!  Put simply, a Hashtag is a word or phrase written on social media outlets that starts with the Pound or Hash sign ( # ) and makes content searchable.  Example:  #TechTip

How does that happen?  With social media, tweets and posts come at an alarming rate and sometimes make it hard to follow.  A Tweet has a very short life span.  Depending on the content, your group of followers and any retweets, a tweet can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes before it falls off the radar.  Facebook posts and other social media platforms tend to have longer life spans, but even then not by a whole lot.  What a hashtag will do when added to your post or tweet makes it easy to be searchable.  It can actually do this in two ways.

1) Tweets can be seen in real time by people who do not follow you but follow the same hashtag.  You may not know who is talking about a specific topic, but if everyone who is uses a hashtag, then a quick search will pull up the current live conversation.  For example, if you wanted to see who was talking about Canadian politics, you can search for the hashtag #CDNpoli or about a specific event in Canadian politics such as #SenateCA .

2) Tweets can be pulled up even if they were sent out a while ago.  If you search for a hashtag, even one that doesn’t have a current conversation going, you can generally find that topic searchable.

There is a third use for hashtags that is a little different.  Since anyone can make a hashtag about anything, it has become common to use hashtags as a joke or to add emotion, emphasis or sarcasm to a tweet or post.  A tweet about hashtags could include something like #Whatiswithallofthesehashtags or something other to get a point across.

Hashtags can go anywhere in a post or tweet.  The only things you need to know are that you can not have any spaces between words and there can be no other punctuation in it.  Generally you should not include more than 1 or 2 hashtags in a post or tweet, but there are some exceptions for some social media platforms like Instagram where hashtagging almost every word to make it searchable has become quite common.

There are some great articles out there if you have more questions on hashtags such as this Beginners guide to Hashtags from Mashable or directly from Twitter.

There are many popular hashtags that people can follow such as #FollowFriday which encourages people to tweet out the usernames of people you think your followers should also follow.  Since anyone can make one, feel free to have some fun making your own or use it in a Google search or Twitter search for important or fun discussions online.

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Tech Tip: Enjoy tunes from your phone in your car

#TechTip: Get a good Bluetooth car kit for your phone, and enjoy your music over your cars speakers

Bluetooth car kits have been around for many years now, and some cars already come with kits built in.  While Bluetooth headsets are still popular when driving, a decent car kit provides a great deal benefits.

First, lets start with the warning: Using your phone while driving can be dangerous and in some areas illegal.  Be aware of local laws regarding phones, electronic devices and driving.  Don’t drive distracted!  Keep your eyes on the road!

While using your phone can be dangerous, there are ways to safely set up your phone and car to limit the amount of distraction and make it safer.  A car kit or earpiece is a must is most jurisdictions now.  Make sure you have one.  As I said in a previous tech tip, keep a backup wired headset in your car just in case your wireless one dies on you.

While most car kits have the built in speaker, some will even go as far as syncing up to your car stereo, whether its built in to the car, or through an FM transmitter, your kit can send calls to your stereo, making it easier to hear the caller at the other end.

In addition to that, if your phone will sync to your car stereo, there should be a setting to play music from your phone over the stereo.  This gives you the enjoyment of your music every you go.  Whether it is music stored on your phone or streamed through your data connection, it will keep you tuned in that what you like best.

To safely operate your phone/music player, make sure your phone is in a proper cradle that attaches to your car.  The easiest way is to pick up a suction cup mount that has a generic adapter for all phones.  This way you can keep the same mount even if you change phones, or move the mount if you move cars.  Personally I’m more of a fan of mounts built in to a car, such as from ProClip.  Their car mounts often require professional installation, so its best for cars that you plan to keep for a long time.  They have individual brackets for each brand of phone, and each mount is custom designed for your car model.  Expensive yes, but I’ve been using them now for 8 years, 2 different cars and countless phones.

Most stores carrying smartphones, especially around the holiday season, will be carrying different suction cup window mounts.  This is fine for most people, but there are also mounts that clip to your car vents.  While these are handy, I recommend you don’t have the heaters blasting out of these vents directly onto your phone.  That makes it too easy for your phone to overheat.

You can probably pick up a nice long USB cable and run it from your phone, or Bluetooth kit, or both, and into your Cars power outlet. Get a 12V adapter with 2 USB ports on it to keep both your phone and bluetooth kit charged up at all times.

Stay safe and enjoy your drive!