Data Breaches: Should You Be Worried?

May 30
2014

Well, the answer to that is both yes and no, which, I’m sure isn’t exactly what you want to hear. We’ve all seen in the news in the last year or so about a lot of the retailers that were hacked. Target, eBay and Schnucks come to mind.  Fact of the matter is, there’s a whole lot of people who, by either pure enjoyment or job duty, try to hack into everything from the biggest retailers and banks to just the average Joe’s email account. Truth be told, it can be very profitable and that’s why most do it. Whether that be from stealing an identity and spending lots of money, clearing bank accounts or selling your personal information to marketing companies, somebody is gaining from it.

This number may scare you a bit, 630,432,294. That is the total number of records exposed in breaches since 2005. Shocking right? What’s even more shocking is that number could be 10 times that amount if it wasn’t for the extremely intelligent individuals who work to prevent hacker attacks on a day to day basis.

If you were exposed in one of the recent big box breaches, most likely your financial institution would have contacted you when the information was received. In fact, most banks and credit unions went ahead and gave everybody new cards and card numbers just to be safe. Here are a few tips to follow regarding breaches:

  1. Monitor your bank accounts – check the balance every day.
  2. Make sure your bank has issued you a new card with a new card number for each one associated with the account.
  3. Make sure you mark any emails that make it into your inbox that are unfamiliar, as SPAM.
  4. Change all of your online passwords – banking, social media, email, etc.

Hopefully it will be a long time until the next one, however, take this as a reminder to be vigilant and be careful where you make purchases.

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Simple Ways to Protect Your Electronics

Apr 30
2014

It’s storm season again and we all know what that means. Lightning, thunder, tornadoes, oh my! Kidding aside, severe weather is no joking matter and puts life and property at risk. Some of that property includes our electronics. Things like TV’s, gaming consoles, DVD/Blu-Ray players, computers, scanners, fax machines, musical equipment and the like are all vulnerable to power surges or being fried from lightning strikes. If you have valuable data on your computer, whether it be business or residential, there are options for keeping that safe as well in the event you need to recover data. 

The first tip is to purchase a simple surge protector to plug your devices into. You may need to purchase more than one depending on the layout of your electronics i.e. multiple devices in different locations of the home or business. This may seem like a big expenditure but trust me, it’s less expensive than replacing all of your fancy stuff. If you need additional comfort, you can always unplug the devices altogether in the event of a severe storm.

There are also home-wide surge protectors that can be purchased and installed at your electrical panel. In most cases, this is not necessary but it would ensure that everything in the home that’s plugged into an outlet will be protected. After a storm, you should check to make sure that it wasn’t tripped. 

As far as data protection goes, you definitely don’t want important information sitting on a computer or server with none of the above solutions in place. In saying that, they are not full proof solutions. If you have a home office with crucial business information stored, you have irreplaceable documents or if your business is vulnerable to power outages or lightning strikes, you may want to consider having your data backed up at an off-site location. Most data centers and IT companies offer affordable and reliable backup plans to ensure your sensitive data is always safe.

I hope these tips are helpful and we hope that you stay safe during this years severe weather season! 

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Spring Cleaning Should Include Your Computer

Mar 31
2014

Well, it’s that time again isn’t it? When we all get crazy motivated to scrub, dub, dust, wipe and get rid of our winter hoarding mess. Some people call it “spring cleaning”. Others, a “purge”. Any way you slice it, your computer should be on the list of things to clean. Really, it should be every 3 months. You would be extremely shocked if you’ve never opened up your computer. The amount of dirt, dust and pet hair that gets sucked into the fan is pretty amazing. I’ve seen some that look like the Titanic at the bottom of the ocean. Crazy. It’s very important to keep the inside of your computer clean. You could potentially ruin the hard drive if the fan is unable to properly keep it cool. It is also a fire hazard. Here are some tips and tricks on how to keep your computer clean:

  • Never spray or squirt any liquid onto any computer part. If a spray is needed, spray the liquid onto a cloth and use that to rub it down. 
  • You can us a vacuum to suck up dirt, dust or hair around the computer on the outside. However, DO NOT use a vacuum for the inside of your computer as it causes a ton of static electricity that can damage the internal parts of your computer. If you need to use a vacuum to clean it, use a portable battery powered one. You can also use compressed air. 
  • When cleaning a component or the computer, turn it off before cleaning.
  • Be careful if you decide to use any cleaning solutions. Some products can harm the computer. Try to always use a little water or severely diluted solution. 
  • When cleaning, be mindful of the knobs or controls and make sure not to unplug anything from the back.
  • When cleaning fans, especially the smaller fans within a portable computer or laptop it’s suggested that you either hold the fan or place something in-between the fan blades to prevent it from spinning. Spraying compressed air into a fan or cleaning a fan with a vacuum may cause damage i.e. back voltage. 
  • Try to limit eating, drinking and smoking around the computer. 

Now that you have some helpful tips to safely clean your computer, I hope that you will put this on the list. It’s very important for the health of the device. You can even call it spring cleaning so it seems more festive and fun!

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Helpful Tips To Buying A New Computer

Feb 28
2014

So, we’ve all been in this situation. You’re at your preferred store for electronics or maybe you’re just browsing the ads looking into buying a new computer. All the different numbers and “GB’s” and “RAM’s”. What does that even mean, right? Let’s run through those basic acronyms first:

GB = Gigabyte. This refers to the amount of storage space on your computer. The higher the number in front of the “GB” means the more storage space you have.
RAM = Random Access Memory. This is needed in order to even boot up your computer. The more RAM you have, the faster your computer will run.

Now that we have that cleared up, how do you choose what’s right for you in those respects? Well, simply put, if you’re going to be saving a lot of documents, storing iTunes files or basically anything more than general browsing the internet, you’re going to want a higher GB. With the dropping prices for computers with high storage space these days, you aren’t breaking the bank to go a little higher. You will be surprised at how much space get’s chewed up in a hurry. Conversely, if you are a simple user, i.e. browsing the internet, playing solitaire, checking your email, etc.. you can probably skimp on the storage space and be OK. As far as RAM goes, if you’re into gaming, using the computer for work (several programs running at once) or you don’t subscribe to the “patience is a virtue” value, then you’re going to want a higher amount of RAM.

OK, let’s take a deep breath. Final decision. Desktop, Laptop or Netbook? Netbooks are compact notebooks with small screens and components that care more about saving battery than being powerful. Meaning, it will be slower, won’t have much storage space and no CD/DVD drive. However, this is all you need for basic things like web browsing and emailing. Laptops are larger than netbooks but have more storage, are faster and most these days all come with a CD/DVD drive. Still portable so if you’re on the move a lot for work, this is a good option. Desktops are great if you don’t need to be mobile. These are larger (towers) but give you more power for the money. Typically, they are also easier to upgrade i.e. installing more memory, better graphics card, etc..

These tips should clear up some of the standard “initial roadblock” questions a lot of people have. Good luck!

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Technology Helps With Special Needs Students

Jan 31
2014

Opening Up the Classroom

This mainstreaming of assistive technologies is having a significant impact on students — and not just on those who have traditionally required accommodations, says Karen Heilbronner, director of secondary special ­education for SRVUSD. Among those who benefit most are children with learning disabilities.

“We’re no longer limited to helping one particular student with a single specialized technology,” Heilbronner says, noting that newer assistive technologies are facilitated by the district’s recent investments in upgraded wired and wireless networks and a one-to-one tablet initiative. “These tools are easily extended to any student who needs them.”

Those with communication, cognitive, reading, short-term memory or developmental issues are now using tools such as Nuance’s Dragon NaturallySpeaking, which reads text back to them; Livescribe Smartpens, which capture everything spoken in class and written by the student; and web-based tools that help students organize their thoughts and assignments.

“We can now give students who have trouble reading every word on a page an e-book reader and text-to-speech capability, and they can sit in class with headphones on, listen to the words as they’re read to them and then weigh in on core literature discussions,” Burkhardt explains. “In the past, these would have been the students in the back who wouldn’t participate, who would have been considered either the shy introvert or the behavioral problem because they weren’t able to effectively engage. These tools are really making a difference.”

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