Tame the FUD Factor!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Back(up) to the basics

While the primary focus of these articles to date has been on cybersecurity, there is another aspect of protecting your information that is of equal importance – the regular and secure backup of your ‘digital data’ (files, photos, etc).

While hacking gets the majority of the headlines, the average user is more likely to lose some of their important information due to something much more…banal, a simple equipment failure.  Think of those files and photos that are on your home computer and mobile devices – what would happen if they were stolen, damaged or your device simply failed? Do you have a recent backup of this information AND know how to restore it? If so, congratulations as you are in the 10% club. The vast majority of users do not regularly backup their important stuff and when tragedy strikes, they are faced with permanent loss or paying a data recovery service ‘big bucks’ to try and get their stuff back.

If you are using all Apple devices and have everything backed up to iCloud then congratulations, you are a step ahead of most. My only recommendation to you would be to: 
  1. Confirm everything important is truly being backed up
  2. If you have multiple devices, do a test restore of some random files
Odds are, your photos, music and phone numbers are being backed up as those are handled with minimal user intervention. But what about important files that may be on another device that isn’t connected to iCloud, or physical paper that exists only in a file cabinet in your home? Periodically, do a gut-check – assume your house is destroyed in a fire and all of your contents, including all of your smart devices are lost. Now what?  Not sure, then ask an expert so you know what options are available to you and have a recovery plan. Make sure you know your AppleID/login information so you can purchase a new iPhone, iPad or iMac and quickly begin the recovery process.

For all the myriad of non-Apple or mixed environment users, we (I’m one of you) must do something different for our other non-Apple stuff. If you are a mixed Apple/Windows user, you may want to consider using iCloud to backup your Windows data. While it’s not quite as simple as using it on your i-Devices, it is still pretty straight forward. The only downsides are: 1) it will only back-up files (not applications) and 2) the cost.  The price per GB of data for iCloud is on the high side when compared to other vendors.

Other options:
Google – personally, I save all of my photos to Google, even those on my Apple devices (there’s an app for that!). Why? Because it is unlimited and totally FREE. (high resolution files are downsized but for everyone but photo buffs, this is probably ok. You do have the option to save files of any resolution, but it does count towards your file usage totals).  I also keep all of my regular files in Google Docs (Word, Excel, PDF) – and I can access them from anywhere on most any device.  I also scan all of my important ‘physical paper’ and upload those to Google docs as well.  Another benefit is I can share any of these files and photos with anyone at any time. Google gives you 5GB for free and additional storage is available at a reasonable cost.

What neither Google nor iCloud can do is backup my actual Windows operating system and all of its applications, settings, etc – all that stuff I’ve spent years installing and configuring. To lose that would be a major PITA, so I use a different option for that.

There are a number of cloud based back up options that are both inexpensive and very easy to use. Which one is ‘best’ depends on your particular needs. If you do not have a lot of installed applications on your computer and most of what is important is individual files, then iCloud or Google drive may be sufficient for your needs. If however, you want to backup EVERYTHING on your computer, then consider one of the following:
  1. Veeam FREE backup for Windows: https://www.veeam.com/windows-endpoint-server-backup-free.html   This is what I use personally and I have also used their enterprise product for many years. It is truly the best of the best. However, this does require that you create these backups on REMOVABLE media, which you periodically store somewhere else. Why? Because backing up your data onto the same computer doesn’t help you if the event of fire or theft. It is also possible to store this backup in the cloud, if it’s not too large and/or you have a fast internet connection.
  2. There are also several cloud based options that can automatically backup everything, even your operating system. The major drawback to this is recovery time. The more stuff you have on your computer the longer to back up and the longer to download/restore in the event of loss. Some also provide an option to send you a recovery device (for an extra fee). This is a recent review of some of the cloud based backup solutions: https://www.tomsguide.com/us/best-cloud-backup,review-2678.html
In summary:
  1. Do an audit – identify what you do not want to lose and how much space all of that ‘stuff’ requires.
  2. If what’s important to you is just files and photos, then iCloud, Google or any of the cloud based solutions will do a great job.
  3. IF you want to backup EVERYTHING on a computer (PC or Mac), then consider Veeam (if Windows) or those cloud based solutions that offer a ‘full system restore’. Don’t forget to review their recovery instructions and save that information somewhere you can find it, if needed.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Weapon of Mass Persuasion

In an October 2018 speech, Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke on what he believes are the wonders and dangers of technology. A summary of that speech was detailed in this INC online article and the one statement they identified as among the more significant was:
“Our own information, from the everyday to the deeply personal, is being weaponized against us with military efficiency.”

The entities utilizing and ‘weaponizing’ our personal data isn’t just ‘bad actors’, but legitimate companies and services we use every day. Every website you visit with an ordinary browser has the capability to track each and everything you do on that website – and most DO!. Additionally, your internet service provider also knows a lot about your internet behavior and many save and sell that information as well. While most of us are aware that websites track our usage, what we do not know is the specifics of that monitoring and what they do with it.

Some of the major companies (Google, Apple, Facebook) now provide methods for you to view and delete some of this data – emphasis on SOME. Without using tools like an anonymous browser and a Virtual Private Network (discussed in our Cybersecurity 102 seminar), we will always leave traces of our internet behavior for others to mine and potentially use. Information that is on the Internet, STAYS on the Internet, but unlike Las Vegas there is absolutely no guarantee of privacy.
Other than pulling the plug and living like it’s the pre-1990 once again, what can one do? [Once again, our Top 3…]

1.       Pay more attention to your online activity. Not only the websites that you visit, but what information you provide them. [ Did you know that if you type information into a web browser – even if you do not press a button, all of the information you type can be captured and saved? ] Avoid giving personal information whenever possible – be a passive viewer / reader vs a participant.

2.       Use a different email address for your non-personal contacts. It only takes a few minutes to create a free new email account in Gmail and you can forward all of them to your main email. Get a free Google Voice number that you use when a phone number is required. Most of us keep our cellphone numbers forever, don’t make it easy for the Robo callers to get yours.

3.       Use your browser in anonymous mode.  All of the major products have an option to run in a mode that will limit some of the activity that can be tracked by the websites you visit. However, this does nothing to prevent your internet service provider from knowing which websites you visit.  If you want to take this to the next level, get the free Brave browser for your desktop and mobile devices. Brave has a number of interesting features that work to protect you and your privacy, including the ability to use TOR (the Onion Router). [ See this article for more information on TOR.]  If you really want to take it to next level, then use Brave along with a VPN (we recommend Nord VPN). Those two together, will give you a much higher degree of online security – but only if you also avoid freely giving your personal information when you visit websites.

Remember that nothing is 100% secure on the internet so always remember to monitor your accounts on a regular basis. Security is inconvenient, but the alternative is much worse.