Lifelong Learning Festival

I am going to be be working with my local council during the Lifelong Learning Festival and will be hosting some online sessions coming up soon, (additional details below as well);

Talking Web Design – Friday 20 November – 11:00 am – 11:30 am
https://meltonlearning.com.au/events/lifelong-learning-festival-talking-web-design-with-paul/

How to use Social Media – Friday 20 November – 1:00 pm – 1:30 pm
https://meltonlearning.com.au/events/lifelong-learning-festival-talking-social-media-with-paul/

How to stay safe online and spot scams – Sunday November 22: 10:30 am – 11:30 am
https://meltonlearning.com.au/events/lifelong-learning-festival-how-to-stay-safe-online-and-spot-scams/

All events are FREE, you just need to sign up for them and have access to Zoom on a device (e.g. mobile phone, tablet, iPad or computer)

So long and thanks for all the fish

All images from; http://www.pixabay.com

That’s my second Douglas Adams refrence I’ve used on my site, can you find the other one?

With January 2020 now coming to an end, Microsoft has ceased support for Windows 7… well, kind of. There have been some very serious vunrabilities that Microsoft had to patch and send out for XP, 7, 8.1 and 10, so if you haven’t run an update recently, GO DO IT RIGHT NOW! Yes, even though we have passed the cut off date for Windows 7 support, the existing patches are still available, they just won’t be releasing any new patches (we’ll see about that).

If you are running Windows 7 and want to update your pc click the [Start] button on the bottom left of your desktop, type “Windows Update” and click on the first result.

NOTE: DON’T click on “Windows Update Anytime” unless you want to be automatically upgraded to Windows 10. This will also only work if you have a valid/licenced copy of Windows 7 or 8.1.

MOVING to LINUX [Part 5] – “Half way there”

I did a thing! I removed Windows 10 from my main laptop and installed Linux! I wanted to use this blog post to talk a bit about the process and my experiences with making this big step. I’d also like to mention that I’ve documented it on my YouTube Channel, so if you’d like to see the process in more detail (and with moving pictures) check it out here https://youtu.be/-wUC-_b4OtM

I don’t want to rehash everything I covered in my video, but I did want to talk about some of my reflections based on my experiences installing Linux, to that end, I’d recommend watching the video first. Else, keep on reading.

Let me start off by stating it was difficult to record the process and I unfortunately don’t have a dedicated studio or recording area. I did however manage to record the audio with my Blue Snowball microphone that my very good friend David gifted me some time ago. This required that I have the laptop set up, my microphone in front of my face and my phone on a mount that was less than ideal (I had to wedge it under my keyboard). This did mean that the video quality was left wanting but as I often say “You gotta work with what ya got.”

Get with the program(ing)! [Part 0] – an introduction

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

I can’t guarantee that I’ll always have a pun for my title, but by golly, I’ll sure as heck try to 😉 Also, sorry about missing out last week on having a blog post, I’ve been getting a bit behind. My workload has been increasing, which leaves me with less time for the things I enjoy, like writing these blogs. One of the things that I got to do whilst being so busy, was to do some programming for a friend (for our purposes we shall refer to them as Q).

Q is a nurse and they have been tasked with updating a whole lot of Preference Cards (in their profession they’re referred to as FAD cards). Surgeons utilise these FAD cards to list what types of instruments and other supplies they require for a particular type of operation or procedure they may perform. Q’s job is to update all of the existing FAD cards with new information, which has been written on printed copies of said cards. Reviewing the work they had ahead of them, I advised that “I think I can make you something that will make your job easier, are you interested?”, (Q was understandably apprehensive but interested).

I sat down with Q and went over what type of information would be pertinent and what was their requirements. For example;

Digital Hygiene [Part 4]“A Case for Privacy”

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

I don’t have anything to hide, so why should I care what happens to my information?” That’s a question I’ve heard from many people, often phrased in different ways, but the sentiment is the same. It’s a very good question and one which needs more attention in this modern digital age. All too often we hear of companies being compromised as a result of varying methods e.g. neglectful ignorance or hacking. We entrust these companies with our data while often being nieve of how it’s kept safe or the risk it poses to us.

The case for privacy that I make is that we have a right to privacy, you could ask the counter questions; “Do you close the door to the toilet when you use it? Do you have curtains in your bedroom that you close? Do you walk around calling out your credit card numbers? Do you ever look to see if someone is following you when yo walk to your car?”. While some of these questions can get a bit silly, most people of course you protect these kinds of things. We of course DO close the toilet doors, and our curtains, and I certainly check what’s going on around me, and we do these things to protect our privacy and our physical well-being, but why do we care less about our digital identities?

Is it that we don’t think that this ‘online’ information is not valuable to others, or that it’s not important to us? There have been too many stories of identity theft where the victims details were easily obtained online from a breached database or simply from them posting enough information about themselves online that made them an easy target. The number one way for people to get your details online is called phishing (pronounced ‘fishing’), it’s where the unsuspecting victim clicks on a link, opens an attachment, fills in an insecure form or provides sensitive details to people posing as a credible source e.g. your bank, ATO etc. 

According to the Australian Government site “Scam Watch”, for the whole 2018  year, Australians lost a reported “$107,001,471” to scams. 100 MILLION DOLLARS. I don’t intend to to cause mass panic or overreaction, but I will point out that these people may have been very private and secure people, phishing and ‘spear phishing’ (a more targeted approach based on know preferences) can happen to anyone, but the more of your details are out in the open on the Internet, the easier or more thoroughly you can be targeted. I’m going to do the next whole blog for Digital Hygiene just on Scams, we recently talked about ‘Situational Awareness’ and ‘scams’ in a previous blog titled “Digital Hygiene [Part 2] – FREE PC Protection”, but it’s becoming so frequent that it warrants more attention.

So what are the threats to your privacy? The big one is that your information is valuable to companies whom depend on monitising advertising, but the problem is that they seldom respect you privacy. Many apps you may install on your phone will often ask for more permissions that they require. Don’t give your flashlight app access to your contacts, as an example, very few apps require access to things like your contacts and location. IF you grant access to you contacts, according to some of their terms and services, you’ve just given them permission to make a copy of all your contacts’ details. Did you know that?

Large companies that hold onto our data are tempting targets for ‘black hat hackers’. A ‘hacker’ is someone that likes to probe code, a ‘black hat’ refers to someone doing this for illegal purposes. We only need to cast our minds back to the recent Marriott Hotel data breach where their ‘Starwood guest reservation’ database was exposed, allowing the bad actors responisble access to up to 500 million people’s private data. This included; people’s names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, passport numbers, dates of birth, gender, Starwood loyalty program account information, and reservation information. For some, they also stole payment card numbers and expiration dates. Marriott says the payment card numbers were encrypted, but it does not yet know if the hackers also stole the information needed to decrypt them. Source: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2018/12/marriott-data-breach

This is but one in a recent string of nasty data breaches not just across America but across the globe, it just so happens that a lot of the larger companies are based in America. Adding woe to their problems, several cities and states across the US are facing increased cyberattacks from advanced Malware and in particular ‘Ransomware’ (which locks files and demands payments to unlock them again) with some councils yielding to demands, paying upwards of $500,000 to get their files back. A lot of this could have been avoided, in my opinion, had more funding been allocated to the local IT security department of each area, and, if staff in governmental facilities had been better trained in preventing attacks. More info on the US cyberattacks; https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/how-to-stop-cyberattacks-crushing-cities-across-the-us/ar-AADKNus

So what can we do to protect ourselves from these big companies either missuing or misshandeling our data? Well that’s getting harder and harder to do, but here are a few things that I recommend everyone look into to in order to be more private and secure online:

  1. Password Managers (look up LastPass, I’ve mentioned it in a previous blog post and will be making a video on using it soon) see also “Digital Hygiene [Part 3] – P@$$w0rds (passwords)”
  2. Use a different username and password for every site! (sounds hard, but use LastPass and a mail forwarder so you don’t have to give out your actual email address to everyone)
  3. Email forwarder (you tell it your actual email address and it gives you the abaility to make up email address on the fly. E.g. make “Stuff4Me” your account then you can enter “John@stuff4me.33mail.com” or “pizza@stuff4me.33mail.com” and it will still get to your proper email account) See http://www.33mail.com to see get started
  4. Use a good Internet browser (I like Brave, but Firefox is also good, Chrome is getting too heavy with cookies for my liking)
  5. Add extensions to your browser to improve privacy (I always use Cookies AutoDelete, NoScript and uBlock Origin)
  6. Give out less info! (Don’t give apps access they don’t need, think about what info you give out. My wife hates it when she goes to pick up pizzas I’ve ordered and having to give the name ‘Roberto’ or ‘Mr. Scnachez’ because I’ve not given out my real name.
  7. Keep learning. As mentioned back in ‘All about Podcasts’ I mentioned a podcast that I recommended the ‘The Privacy Paradox’ podcast. It’s 5 part series that talks the paradox of wanting to live in a more connected world but also wanting to keep some parts of our lives private. I felt that it is a ‘must listen to’ for all people living in a digital world. Have a listen then pay it forward. Get your mother or father to listen to it, get your friends to have a listen too.

This all might seem like too much to be bothered with, but I feel that it’s worth fighting for. The right for privacy stems from a need to protect one’s own identity, whether it’s your name, postal address or your email and phone number. We don’t know when the next data breach will be or what bad things could be done with our data, so try and keep your private information… well, private.

Thanks for reading, I know there was some more technical stuff near the end there, I’m planning more blog posts and videos on these topics soon. I’ve not had a chance to get much done lately, but I’m hoping this will change soon.

Tell me in the comments if you think my privacy protection measures are too extreme, or not extreme enough. Would you believe that you can get to a whole new level if that’s something you want to do?

Warm Regards,

Paul

MOVING to LINUX [Part 4] – “Dipping the toe”

It has begun! I have started to use Linux on my laptop for both work purposes and for play. I’m running a distribution or “distro” form of Linux called Mint and I must say, I AM impressed. It’s designed to feel a lot like Windows and does just about everything I need an operating system to do. It handles my main programs (see “MY Checklist”) and it does so with lighting fast response time. Considering my laptop is quite old and not very powerful; (Windows 7 64-Bit, Intel core i5, 4GB DDR3 RAM, 700GB HDD), this was a pleasant surprise.

I wanted to cover in this post how I got Linux installed on my laptop as well as talking about another useful feature that most (if not all) distros allow you to do, which is Dual Booting. Simply put, you can have more than one operating system installed on a computer or laptop at any one time and you can choose which one to boot from (the process involved when you first turn on your computer). So in my case, my laptop was already running Windows 7 and I was able to add Linux Mint as a bootable operating system (OS). When I turn my laptop on, during the boot process, I’m presented with a list of different OS’s I want to use. By default it will load Mint if I don’t select anything after a few seconds, else I can choose to boot into a ‘safe mode’ of Linux or good old Windows.

If you’re not ready to take the plunge and install an additional operating system, there’s an alternative and some may say even easier way to try Linux out with a ‘Bootable USB stick” that can be plugged into your computer and booted from. You may be wondering why someone would want such a thing? There’s a few good reasons to create one of these bootable USBs, here are a few of the most common ones;

  • Install or upgrade a disto of Linux
  • Test a distro without touching your PC configuration
  • Boot into Linux on a borrowed machine or from an internet cafe
  • Use tools installed by default on the USB stick to repair or fix a broken configuration

As a supplier of tech support, being able to boot a troublesome PC into Linux is a cool idea. There are distros designed specifically to help fix computers, they come preloaded with diagnostic and repair utilities. But for today’s purposes, we are talking about testing a distro and most importantly without touching you PC’s existing configuration.

There is a little bit of a technical difficulty level required to do this, so if you read the next part and it sounds too hard, or, if you have no desire to try Linux and you’re just reading this out of interest, don’t worry. This is not going to be for everyone, and that’s ok, rather it’s something I’m interested in and enjoy sharing my process with all of you good people. Here is a brief list of what is required to continue and then I’ll be linking to an article.

List of things you need to proceed (related links below);

  • A USB flash drive that has at least 2GB of storage, 4GB preferred but NOT over 8GB.
    • Some computers can’t boot from a USB that is bigger than 8GB, if it’s an 8GB stick, that’s fine, but not more than that.
    • NOTE: Make sure that there is nothing on your USB, as part of this process, creating the boot-able Linux disk it will erase everything on it.
  • A program called Rufus that created the bootable USB (see link below).
  • An ‘iso image’ (a single file that’s a perfect representation of an entire CD or DVD).
  • Knowing the right key to press when booting your computer (not always required, but good to know.

And that’s it! It’s not a lot but some of the steps might be too much for some of you readers out there. But like I said, that’s OK too.

Here are the required and useful links for anyone who would like to continue on with testing out Linux.

First; Rufus (<- Click me)

Second; Instructions for creating a Boot-able USB (<- Click me) with Rufus

Third; A location to get Linux Mint (<- Click me) as an iso image. Then choose “Cinnamon” and the“64-bit” option. NOTE: If you are running really old hardware, you might need the 32-bit version instead. You can find out by following the instructions here ( <- Click me ) ANOTHER NOTE: Cinnamon is one of four main different desktop ‘skins’ or ‘theme’ but it’s also the least hardware intensive, and it most visually resembles Windows 7 and 8, which are the two main reasons why I have picked it for this example. This can be changed later.

Fourth; Which key you might need to press if your computer does not boot (<- Click me) to the finished USB automatically

Bonus: An alternative set of instructions that does a beautify job of providing step-by-step instructions for making your own boot-able Ubuntu (<- Click me), if you know what this distro

I hope to be able to do a video on this process soon. Sometimes it’s much easier to see it being done than trying to follow written instructions. I’ll also be posting soon about my experiences running Linux Mint, so keep an eye out for that.

Warm Regards,

Paul H

Stick it in your Pocket!

I’ve found a really useful app that lets you save websites and view them later. Now I know what you’re thinking; “But Paul, that’s just a bookmark, have you gone mad?” Well, no, not a bookmark per-say, and I don’t think I’ve gone completely mad just yet. This app actually captures the main body of text from a webpage you’re viewing whilst on your mobile device, it then allows you to view it later on your home computer. But wait, there’s more! While still on your mobile device, you can click a button and have the app read you the aforementioned web page back to you, Now that is neat!

This is very useful for me because I can save technology related news articles while I’m waiting in line for something, save up a few, and then get the app to read them to me while I’m doing something else. There are other useful applications that I can think of like; saving different recipes I find, or products I want to buy.

Some people might not see a need for this app, you might have Firefox or another browser synchronize your bookmarks across devices, but me being the paranoid tech user that I am, like to keep things separate. In fact, if you have a Mozilla Firefox account, you can use that to sign into this app and have it sync that way. For me, I created a new account, with a new unique email address and a unique password. That’s just how I roll, you don’t have to have the same sized tinfoil hat as I do. 😛

The app I’ve been talking about is called ‘Pocket’ and the privacy-loving Mozilla Firefox team was so impressed with the amount of built-in privacy that they added into their Firefox browser. Just look for the Pocket icon a the end of your address bar, give it a click, and sign up or sign in with one of the options. At the moment though, for me, my Firefox Brower is set to maximum security and this seems to be causing a problem for Pocket. It keeps on asking me to log into my Pocket account even though I am already logged into it. I’ll have to investigate this issue more and report back.

Currently, I’m still using Brave browser for most of my daily Internet use, and you can add an extension via the Google Chrome store (because Brave is built on Chrome) which adds a button to add to your pocket. I’ve tested this and all seems to be working well. I can add an article from my computer and it appears instantly on my phone and vice-versa.

When you open a saved item on your phone, you can click on the headphones at the top to have the app ‘read’ the saved item. The voice is computer generated, meaning it sounds robotic, but I find it has good voice modulation so it’s not too monotone. Additionally, you can adjust the playback speed, an important feature for me because I’ve gotten used to listening to my podcasts and audiobooks at an accelerated speed. Options can be set to have articles play in a list, one after the other.

That’s about it for today, only a short one I’m afraid. I’ve been swamped with extra work lately, which is a good problem to have if honest. If you give Pocket a try, please do let me know in the comment section down below.

Thanks again for stopping by, and remember; never stop learning

Warm Regards,

Paul

Digital Hygiene [Part 3] – P@$$w0rds (passwords)

Image Source: Pixabay

What makes a good password? Back in Digital Hygiene [Part 1] – “Can I borrow your toothbrush?” the first thing I talked about was treating your password like your toothbrush; a) Pick a good one, b) Change it regularly and c) Never share it. Today we are going to be looking at passwords in more depth, including a link for you to use to test out your passwords and see how strong your best ones are.

There are three main elements to making a strong and secure password;

Length – make it longer than is required by default, e.g. if the site requires a minimum of 6 characters, make your password 8 or 12 long

Complexity – avoid simple words, names, dates but DO use upper and lower case letters as well as symbols and spaces

Uniqueness – having a different password (and username) for every site you visit. This one sounds like it would be impossible to do, but this can be achieved with something called a Password Manager, which we will be discussing down below.

Before we continue any further, let’s have a look at some existing passwords, your passwords. There is a great website called “How Secure is my Password,” here you can enter your password and find out approximately how long it would take for a computer to crack your password using a method called ‘brute force attack’ (tries every possible combination of letter, number and words in a dictionary). It’s important to note that this website in itself is very secure and is trusted by IT professionals, to the extent that it has been created in a way that means your passwords aren’t actually sent to the website in a way that it can be read or stored. All of this means that it’s proven to be safe when entering real passwords, however if you’re unsure or not comfortable then change one or two characters in your password so that it’s not identical to your real one.

Let’s have a look at some examples I ran through that same site:

46e^5UG$WSe8 – would take a computer an approximate 34 thousand years to crack

9c5U7vgNjbfZq*6 – would take a computer and approximate 16 BILLION YEARS to crack

Two very good choices for passwords, they both have upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. The only problem is that it would be difficult to remember a password that is as complex as these. So what could be an alternative way to make a complex password easier to remember? Well, we could use a word but change the way that we type it, replacing letters like ‘a’ with the ‘@’ symbol, ‘p’s with ‘9’ and so on. Here are a few examples below;

h@99Y – would take a computer approximately 68 MILLISECONDS to crack, not very good, but if you add a few more characters….

h@99Y:|:Gmal – would take approximately 485 THOUSAND YEARS to crack. Note that I’ve intentionally misspelt ‘Gmail’ to decrease the chance of it being found in a dictionary. As a basic method that is also easy to remember for multiple accounts, where you could use the same prefix ‘h@99Y:|:’ and add a suffix for something like Facebook like ‘fB0k’. Unfortunately this can still prove to be challenging to remember and potentially still carries the risk that it could be guessed if someone identified one of your other passwords.

While these methods aren’t bad, there’s more than one way to make a secure password that’s also easy to remember. This last method is called a ‘passphrase’ and is a series of words with spaces in between. While this seems to go against one of the first rules I mentioned, which was to not use common words, using a few of them with spaces in between actually creates a very secure password. Let’s have a look at a few examples below;

Happy Ice-cream Skeleton – would take a computer roughly 21 OCTILLION YEARS to crack. P.S I asked my kids to give me three random words to make that password. Note that I also capitalized each word and put a space in between as well. Also, what on Earth is an ‘Octillion’? The answer will be at the end of this post (but I’ll have to search the Interment to find it out)

I think that the last password we used serves as an interesting example of an easily remembered password that is also secure. It’s not hard to remember a skeleton eating an ice-cream and being happy about it, then you just need to remember the order of the words. Finally, let’s look at one even more secure option, one that combines a few of these techniques;

h@99Y Ice=Cre@m Sk3l3ton – would take a computer approximately 297 OCTILLION YEARS to crack, Yikes! Give some password a try at the site I linked to, see if you can come up with a few good ones. Try asking some different family members for a random word and put them together.

Right! So now you know how to make a really good password, all you need to do now is make one for each site. Oh! Not so easy all of a sudden, yeah? Well, the good news is that you don’t have to remember dozens of complex passwords, you can get away with remembering just one really good one and never have to worry about memorising new passwords again. How you might ask? Well you may have already known, I did mention them before; Password Managers!

A password manager is a service (and/ or application) that can generate and store passwords of high complexity and length so that you don’t have to remember a different password for each site that you visit. The advantage of having a service like LastPass is that it can generate random, long passwords so that you can easily have an excellent password for each site you visit and never have to remember each one.

You’ll only need to remember one, strong password, to get into your password manager and, preferably, set up two-factor authentication, but that is going to be the topic of another blog. With these two things, your passwords will forever be strong and secure.

NOTE: I’m going to suggest something that might seem VERY counter-intuitive when it comes to making your new, super strong, password; write it down on a slip of paper and store it in your wallet/ purse. That does not seem like a good idea, right? But until you have your new password committed to eternal memory, it’s not a bad idea to practice and rehearse it. This is the last password you will ever need, the one that you will need to access all other passwords (but you should also change THIS one once in a while as well. Take it out, read it, close your eyes and whisper it to yourself, then open your eyes and check. When you know it backwards and front ways, dispose of the paper and hope you really do have it remembered.

We will be using LastPass as our password manager as it is one of the most secure and widely used password managers in the world. We will be using the free version of LastPass, however, the premium version is only $3AUD per month and that adds a lot of functionality. There are also packages for families, small and large businesses.

All we need to do is to open your favourite internet browser (Brave, Chrome, Firefox, etc.) and go to http://www.lastpass.com, create an account and set a nice strong password. I’ve included a downloadable guide with detailed step by step instructions that goes through setting up a LastPass account and adding an extension to your internet browser (an extension is a small add-on to your internet browser that adds functionality).

This has been another blog post with a LOT of information. Please do take the time to read over it a few times and either post a reply if you need help or email me at hobstar@protonmail.com and I’ll help out. I hope to have a video soon on the process of setting up a LastPass account for those who find the written instructions difficult to follow. I know that everyone has different ways of learning and I hope in the future to always be able to accommodate all types of learners.

Before we finish, I got a suggestion from a dear friend to add in a ‘Fact of the Week’ related to each post, so here it is;

“The number one used password in 2018 was ‘123456’, which is followed by another maddeningly obvious choice, ‘password’. ” ~WeLivesScurity

Until next time, never stop learning.

Warm Regards,

Paul

P.S Please find down below the download I mentioned about the instructions on setting up LastPass.

P.P.S The definition of octillion as per the Merriam-Webster dictionary
US : a number equal to 1 followed by 27 zeros
also, British : a number equal to 1 followed by 48 zeros. Either way, it’s a big number.