Test your computer knowledge!

Read the whole thing before you get mad.

The Computer Industry Almanac projects there will be 1.07 billion Internet users in 2005. They project the number to grow to 1.21 billion in 2006 and 1.35 billion in 2007. The one common element shared by all these users is called bandwidth. Think of the oil industry and how they move oil via pipelines. The number of pipelines available and the size of the pipe determine the amount of oil that can be moved. The Internet is similar. How many users there can be is limited by the amount of bandwidth available. The number and type of distribution channels such as, phone, copper and fiber optic determine bandwidth. With the explosive growth of the Internet for commerce, information transfer and scientific research, the available bandwidth is rapidly falling behind demand.  I have my Internet homepage set up to collect news articles about topics that intrigue me. Here are some that came across, that by themselves are probably innocuous, but if viewed looking for commonality….well, you decide.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24, 2005 (PRIMEZONE) — AdZone Research, Inc. (OTC BB:ADZR.OB – News) today announced that it has received notice from a Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Government laboratory that it’s pioneering Internet tracking technology has been officially validated. The approval represents a major milestone in the company’s ability to pursue government contracts. AdZone Research specializes in automated retrieval, classification, analysis and delivery of worldwide Internet data for global defense as well as media metrics. Through surveillance of more than one half million Web sites worldwide, AdZone provides tracking and monitoring of targeted information on the Internet, with an expanded focus on global Internet analysis of security-related data transmissions.

Newswire, 2005-01-31 – At issue is PATRIOT Section 216, which expanded the government’s authority to conduct surveillance in criminal investigations using pen registers or trap and trace devices (“pen-traps”). The Department Of Justice has said openly that the new definitions allow pen-traps to collect email and IP addresses. However, the DOJ has not been so forthcoming about web surveillance. It won’t reveal whether it believes URLs can be collected using pen-traps, despite the fact that URLs clearly reveal content by identifying the web pages being read. Access to documents that might reveal whether the DOJ is using pen-traps to monitor web browsing have been requested.

Trabue Tribune Daily Post Gazette, April 1, 2005: The government announced today that beginning with the new model year for computers this September, all new computers will be required to contain a “P” chip. This new technology, akin to the “V” chip in televisions, will allow monitoring and tracking of all Internet and personal usage by owners of personal home computers. A government spokesman, demanding anonymity before speaking, stated that unlike spyware programs currently monitoring and directing the marketing habits of computer users which can be removed by the user if desired, the “P” chip is a hardware device integrated into the system board of the computer. Any attempt to remove it will disable the computer. Further, this spokesman stated that the government has no plans at this time to collect personal information. Data collected will be used to measure and distribute available bandwidth. An example would be if a “P” chip detected a spike in bandwidth from a particular computer user, it would automatically shut down the computer to prevent excess demand on the Internet. Acting much like a governor on an engine. Data collected from computers nationwide could be used to establish an Internet rationing system, or even a secondary market for usable bandwidth.

A new department under the auspices of the FTC would be charged with the responsibility of developing rules and regulations surrounding the “P” chip. This group, the Agency for Private Reporting of Internet Limitations, would turn over enforcement of the rules and regulations to the Federal Order of Operational Latency.

Internet Advocacy groups claim any monitoring of personal computers would violate privacy rules and laws pertaining to search and seizure. They also state that it is small step from monitoring and measuring to taxing users of the Internet. Speaking on the record, these groups have threatened to file Freedom of Information suits to force the release of all documents pertaining to the formation and goals of the two groups, A.P.R.I.L. and F.O.O.L.

I will keep you posted.

HACKED or CONNED?

The terminology isn’t important. What is important is how does a thief, a crook, a con man, yes even a low life useless piece of trash get control of our computers, bank accounts, credit cards etc? Simple answer. We willingly, trustingly, non verifiably give it to them.

The worst part of this is that it doesn’t involve a virus or some other behind the scenes intrusion into our binary buddy. Once again, we, the computer user simply hand over the information these pieces of garbage need to rip us off. I receive at least a couple of calls from clients each week that have been scammed out of money. Sometimes it is 3 or 4 hundred dollars, last week a client was taken for $2500. I’ve attached a video of a woman that was scammed out of $30000, then the scammers offered to refund her money but she had to accept checks, cash them and then wire the money to the scammers from which they would issue her refund. Not once, but over and over for two years she cashed checks and wired the money elsewhere. In other words the crooks not only ripped her off, never issued a refund, but then turned her into a money mule and convinced her to launder the money for them so they couldn’t be caught.

One of the more popular scams being run today is the Refund Scam. You receive an email that says someone, somewhere purchased a big ticket item on your account and if it wasn’t you then call this phone number immediately. Below is a scam email I received recently.

The problem here is that folks see the bogus charge and immediately want it removed from their credit card so they call the number listed. From there a Refund Department scammer will kindly offer to help remove the charge but needs to have control of your computer to help you process the forms to get the refund. Scammers then have you download a remote control program that allows them to take over your computer. From here, the scammer uses a script to have you log into your bank and by blanking the screen can transfer or appear to transfer a sum larger than your refund is supposed to be. Now the scammer says that you need to send him the overage, by gift card, wire transfer etc. Scammers usually will not accept any form of payment that can be reversed hence their reliance on gift cards.

But let’s go back to the bogus email I received. Lots of red flags here that should have stopped you in your tracks. First if you read the email carefully, there is no reference to a store or company that might have sold this product. Second, the return email address isn’t a company email such as orders@walmart.com etc. Third, look at the payment terms of Net 500. In the business world that means that the client has 500 days after the invoice to pay it. Very unlikely. And finally, Windows Defender is free to download from Microsoft. The biggest flag is that you cannot go to the website of the company that supposedly sold this item and check your order history to see if it really was used by someone.

Here are two YouTube videos that show the actual scam in process. Strongly recommend that you watch them and share them with your friends and family. for warned is forearmed.

It’s time to use two-step authentication for your email.

Received a call this week from a client. The issues they were having were as follows.

1: Not receiving any email.

2: Calls from friends and aquaintances that they were receiving strange emails from my client requesting help obtaining a $200 gift card for their nephew and if my client would purchase the gift card they would gladly pay them back when they got back to town.

3: Believing that their email account had been compromised, they attempted to reset the password but were unable to get a reset code from the their email provider.

So where do we go from here. I opened their email program and sent a test message to my account and it went through with no problem. I then clicked on Reply and saw immediately that the reply to email address was not theirs. It was close but no cigar. This was the secret sauce that allowed me to determine the issues.

How a hacker got their credentials to the email account may never be known. Most likely they received an official looking request purportedly from their email provider asking them to verify their account by logging in and providing a very pretty button to click that took them to a spoofed page that looked like their email providers login page. Once they entered their username and password the hacker had it.

Next the hacker logged into their email account, went to settings and made some changes. First the piece of scum changed the default “Reply to Address” from my client’s email to his spoofed email account so that any one that received a strange email from my client, if they clicked on reply to respond to the email, that response went to the hacker and not to my client.

Next he set up “Forwarding” so that all emails that came to my client were automatically forwarded to the cyberpunk. This way he could over time determine who my client banked with, utility bills, friends, family etc.

Then this garbage crook turned on Vacation Response so that anyone emailing my client would receive a response that my client was out of town and couldn’t reply at this time.

Finally, this waste of life, created an Email Rule that automatically archived all incoming emails. Consequently my client believed that he was not receiving any emails because they didn’t go to the inbox but went to the archive folder.

After correcting all the false settings, we were able to reset the password for the account. Next we turned on two-factor authentication. What this does in my client’s case, is that when anyone logs into the email from anywhere other than his main computer or his phone, the email provider sends a code via text message to my client’s phone which has to entered into the login screen within a short period of time.

This way, even if a hacker were to get hold of the username and password of the account, and then tried to log in from, oh let’s say, Pakistan, the hacker would be required to enter the authentication code which appeared on my client’s phone and not in Pakistan. Without the code, the email account would stay locked and the hacker denied access.

Click on the blue button and give your account away!

Be extremely vary of official looking emails requesting that you login or your account is or will be locked, suspended, deleted etc. Your email provider already has this information and certainly doesn’t need it from you. If you really think it is a legitimate request, surf to your actual providers page and log in there. DO NOT press the button in the email that says Verify, or Log in.

And please consider setting up two-factor authentication. It’s for your safety!

Take this Quiz if you Dare!

Quiz. Pop website test isolated human wisdom royalty free stock photos

This week I invite you to take a little quiz. Fifteen years the Bits & Bytes column has been showing up week after week with tips and must do items for folks to try, follow or of course, ignore. (Martha, I didn’t know there was going to be a test!)

Question 1: When the wireless mouse stops working do you: A: Try to scare it with nasty words? B: Call a computer tech to come out and fix it? C: Buy a new mouse? D: Put new batteries in it verifying they are seated correctly?

Question 2: Trying to open your email and it says incorrect password, do you: A: Retype the same thing over and over until the account is locked? B: Swear on a stack of bibles that the password you entered is correct? C: Proclaim loudly that you never had a password protecting the email account? D: Use the forgotten password link to reset the password?

Question 3: The printer suddenly stops printing, do you: A: Keep sending print jobs to it over and over figuring eventually it will give up and print? B: Restart the printer and the computer and see if that starts it printing? C: Google an 800 number that will fix the problem free for just $399? D: Call a local computer tech?

Question 4: The phone rings and a voice announces they are from Microsoft and your Windows License has expired, do you: A: Get out the credit card and pay to have the license renewed? B: Buy a new computer with a new Windows License Key? C: Allow the caller to have remote control of your binary buddy to FIX the problem? D: Hang up because Bits & Bytes mentioned that the Windows License Key never expires?

Question 5: A screen pops up with a voice speaking informing you that your computer is infected with the virus de jour and you must call the 800 number to save the computer, bank records, pictures etc. and you can’t close the warning message, do you? A: Immediately call the 800 number and pay $399 to have the nonexistent virus removed? B: Recognize that the window is actually a website made to appear to be a virus warning? C: Use Task Manager to close the offending window?  D: When in doubt, call a local computer tech?

Question 6: You’ve diligently performed a backup of critical data on a regular schedule, do you: A: Verify that the back up is actually being performed or just take it on faith? B: Do you back up your data to the same hard drive that runs the computer so that if the hard drive fails you lose the backups as well? C: Do you back up to an external drive and verify that it is working? D: Do you back up to a cloud based system automatically?

These are issues I run into almost every week. The answers to all the questions is D: Except there will be credit given on question 6, if you answered C.

How did you do?

LEAVE ME ALONE!

person holding blue ballpoint pen on white notebook
Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

The year is one third gone already. It arrived and like it or not it brought with it another year of triumphs and challenges. In the old days, when working for the MAN in the corporate world, life was defined, set, functions clear, directed and relatively meaningless. We would start each day with the Company Mission Statement, moved to the coffee and donuts, struggle till lunch, prepare our “Management by Objective” fictions, and then coast till quitting time. Ahhh, life was easy back then.

But today it feels like we can’t run fast enough. Someone or something is constantly pushing us to do something, buy something, contact someone, answer a survey, pay more, save less, go farther with less fuel, heat homes at lower temperatures, etc. I opened the mailbox today and thought there was only two pieces of junk mail until I picked them up and six more pieces fell to the floor. All junk, but I am sure that the folks that sent them thought they were the offers that couldn’t be refused.

I used to like junk mail. Really. I, like almost everyone here in Florida, came from a northern state. I won’t tell you which one, but our state motto was “Eight months of winter, and four months of rough snowmobiling.” In the winter months we welcomed the piles of junk mail, because when tightly bundled, they would burn for hours in the wood stove and help heat the house. When we made our midnight move to Florida, I thought that perhaps the junk mail, like our son would not find us in our new home. It took our son two years to find us and move back home, the junk mail was waiting for us when we got to Florida.

For a while I chuckled as I would remove the contents of one junk mail envelope and exchange it with another junk mail envelope and mail them in the postage paid envelopes to each other. But, after awhile, even this gets boring.

So this year I vow to clean up some of the detritus that distracts me every day. To do this I will turn to my faithful electronic companion. Join me as I fire up my computer and travel the first step: Go to http://www.optoutprescreen.com. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), Equifax, Experian, Innovis, and TransUnion, are permitted to include your name on lists used by creditors or insurers to make pre-approved / prescreened offers of credit or insurance. Opting-Out refers to the process of removing your name from these lists for five years. Through this site, the Consumer Credit Reporting Companies are providing consumers with an easy and convenient way to exercise their right to Opt-Out. (Martha, tell your cousin in Maine that you can also Opt-in to receive all kinds of junk mail to burn instead of propane.)

Next I surf the net over to http://www.dmaconsumers.org/consumerassistance.html. This site is designed to help folks reduce the amount of commercial and non-profit mail going to their mail box. They claim that I will see a significant drop in junk mail within three months of registering. This group will also help to reduce e-mail soliciting, phone soliciting and even has a section pertaining to sweepstakes. It is run by the DMA (Direct Marketing Association) All members are required to run their mailing, e-mail and phone lists against the DMA op-out list every three months or more and will carry your name for five years.

I feel like the density of my life is lessening already. Hit that keyboard and surf over to http://www.donotcall.gov. In just a few moments, I have registered not only my home phone but my cell phone as well with the national Do Not Call Registry. There is a complaint section that allows us to file information about a caller which I bookmarked just in case I get that six o’clock call just as I put a bite of dinner in my mouth. After reading the details I almost wish a scofflaw company would call me so I could slap them with that $11,000 fine.

Finally, I want to visit http://www.annualcreditreport.com. This site allows you to request and receive online a copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three major credit reporting companies. Stagger the request so that every four months you receive a credit report from a different company. I found eight accounts still listed as open that my wife and I had closed in the mid 1970’s and one cell phone account that wasn’t ours. And if credit reports are as baffling to you as they were to me, spend a few minutes at http://money.howstuffworks.com/credit-report1.htm and get the lowdown on how they started, what they are and why you should care.

I’m feeling better already.