Google is the most popular search engine in the world, but that doesn't make it safe. In fact, Google makes most of its money off of "sponsored" advertising placements, and that's where the unsafe corruption of search results can occur.
Anytime you search for a popular term on Google, you may see "sponsored" search results listed at the top. Companies pay for these results, and can insert virus-laden links. As a general practice, it's best to completely avoid "sponsored" search results and click on the genuine search results, which are listed below the sponsored results.
You can learn about an example of malicious Google ad behavior at the following blog post from the excellent Krebs on Security: https://krebsonsecurity.com/2024/01/using-google-search-to-find-software-can-be-risky/
Would you like to completely block risky Google advertising links and other web ads? We can help! We install high-quality Eero brand Wi-Fi routers that can include a subscription service called Eero Plus, which blocks advertising and questionable links from your Wi-Fi network.
Winter is a great time to perform maintenance on your computer, as computer operating system updates are typically at their top stability in the months following the December holidays (Tech engineers may not be working on a consistent cadence in the Summer, and Fall is usually the time for releasing new updates that need time to get glitches worked out).
For Windows computers, the latest version of Windows 11, version 23H2, was released in late 2023, and is now considered stable and available for most Windows 11 compatible computers.
For Macs, Apple released their latest system, MacOS Sonoma, in the Fall, and having seen a few minor updates since, it is ready for folks to install. Most Macs released in 2018 or newer are compatible with Sonoma.
Best practices for updating include making a backup of your data first, and for Windows computer checking for BIOS updates from your computer's manufacturer before making the plunge. We can help you take care of this all over the phone over the course of a 30-60 minute tech support session.
These days many people rely on receiving text messages to login to websites. It's typical to receive a code via text message that you punch in to confirm you're the account owner. That's great in theory, but in reality texting is one of the least secure methods for sending information. This is due to a scam called "SIM Swapping," which allows scammers to redirect text messages to their own phones by posing as the owner of your cellular account. If you can imagine the temptation of a cell phone store employee to sell a new phone (and make a commission) when a person walks in and offers cash to buy a phone and connect it to "their" account, you can see why these scams can succeed. Even new FCC rules have not yet stopped the scammers.
Luckily, there are several straightforward steps you can take to bolster your protection.
1. Download your cellular carrier's account management app to your phone, and make sure to log in. Typically the app will notify you when a change is made to your account, so that you can react if necessary.
2. Turn on the Number Lock feature through your cell carrier to ensure that an additional password or verification is required to redirect your text messages to a new device. While you're at it, ask your cell carrier what info they require to verify your identity, and if that info might be discoverable by other people (such as your social security number or date of birth), request that an additional security password be added to your account.
3. For critical accounts such as email or cloud storage (iCloud, Google, Microsoft, Dropbox, Backblaze, etc) opt to use a "1-time passcode generator" instead of text messages for verification. Once this is setup, instead of receiving texts, you enter a temporary password that is displayed in a password manager on your phone or computer. iPhones and Macs now have this option built in. Our favorite password manager, 1Password, can also generate these passwords for you. There are other free options for generating 1-times passcodes such as Google Authenticator and Authy.
We are happy to help in this process, to get your most critical logins moved away from text message based security so that you are less vulnerable to SIM swapping.
We are proud to partner with Helpmate to provide personal cybersecurity checkups for those in need who are concerned that someone may attempt to breach their accounts or devices.
In today's world anyone can benefit from a cybersecurity checkup.
Here are some of the common areas we check on when supporting clients in a personal cybersecurity review:
Apple released its latest round of yearly updates for Mac, iPhone, and iPad. You can learn more about these updates at the following links:
MacOS 14: Sonoma
Check out the tables below to see if your device can update to the latest version.
For devices left out of the updates, Apple typically provides security updates for the prior version of the Mac operating system (in this case, MacOS Monterey) for 2 years after the operating system is discontinued.
The outlook for out-of-date iOS devices is less clear, but Apple often provides basic security updates for older iOS devices for 1 additional year. This means that iPhone X and iPhone 8 owners might still receive 1 year of security updates for iOS 16.
For users of even older phones like the iPhone 7 (which is stuck on iOS 15), it's unclear whether they will continue getting any further security updates, and some apps like 1Password have discontinued providing ongoing updates for iOS 15.
Microsoft is beginning to integrate artificial intelligence into its products, such as its Bing search engine and Microsoft 365 (formerly Microsoft Office). The idea is to automate some tasks, and offer better answers to common search questions. You can learn more by clicking this link.
Early versions of these features are being rolled into the latest versions of Microsoft's Windows 11 and Microsoft 365 products.
Artificial intelligence has had accuracy issues in the past, and we recommend fact checking all AI-based answers.
We love to-do apps as a space all your own for creative brainstorming and planning, outside of email and other communication tools. Inside of a good brainstorming or to-do app there are no distractions or communications from the outside world, just simply a place to do your own writing and planning.
Our favorite to-do list app for Apple devices is Cultured Code's Things. It runs on Mac, iPhone, and iPad. It's a paid app, but also one of the highest quality apps out there.
Our favorite to-do app on PC (also works on Apple & Android devices) is Microsoft To-Do. This app has heritage from the venerable Wunderlist app, which Microsoft acquired a few years ago, and it's free.
Mystery surrounds the iPhone's ability to close apps when you're done using them, and today's column seeks to provide clarity around this perennial point of inquiry.
The iPhone is designed for you to easily leave apps when you are done using them. To leave an iPhone app, using an iPhone X-style phone, simply swipe up from the bottom of the screen to return to your home screen (for iPhones with a circular Home button, press the Home button once).
However, sometimes apps glitch up or freeze, and we need to force-close the app to allow it to work properly again. This is an easier step than restarting your phone, which is also a good troubleshooting option.
To force-close an iPhone app, swipe up from bottom of the screen, but pause your finger in the middle of the screen (for iPhones with a Home button, simply double-tap the Home button). You will see the App Switcher: a set of cards representing your recently used apps. Swipe an app's card up and away to force-close the app (click here for a video and Apple's official instructions). You can then re-open the app, and it may behave better.
Some people choose to force-close all of their apps on a regular basis by swiping all of the App Switcher's cards up and away, and while this doesn't damage the phone, it can be detrimental to performance. Here are a few reasons why it's a best practice to only to force-close apps when necessary:
1. Force-closing expels the app from the phone's memory, meaning it may take more energy to load the app when you re-open it, which can negatively affect battery life and performance.
2. Force-closing means that the app may not remember where you left off, making it more cumbersome when you re-open the app.
3. Force-closing prevents the app from syncing in the background which can cause problems with apps such as fitness or mapping apps (if you want to turn off an app's ability to sync in the background, check out this article for the most effective way to do that and save a bit of battery life).
4. Here's a little known fact: just because an app appears in your iPhone's App Switcher does not mean it is necessarily turned on or consuming resources on your phone. All apps you have used recently will appear in the App Switcher in chronological order regardless of whether they are using resources, and leaving them there gives you an easy way to switch back to a recently used app.
5. Bonus Tip: iPhone X-style phones without a home button can easily switch between your most recently used apps by swiping along the bottom of your screen. Check out this video to see how.
All software needs Tender Loving Care sometimes, and this is especially true for password managers, which have to integrate deeply into your operating system and web browser in order to work their magic.
The latest version of 1Password (our favorite password manager) is version 8, which was released last year. However, some folks are still running the older version 7, which 1Password is discontinuing as of July 10, 2023.
Not to worry, an upgrade to 1Password 8 is included with 1Password subscriptions, and it is advisable for subscribers to upgrade immediately if you haven't done so already to keep 1Password working smoothly. Click here for the article detailing how to do this on your computer, smartphone, and tablet. We can also help you perform the upgrade over the course of a remote support phone session.
Has it been more than 6 months since your last tech support & teaching session? Perhaps it's time for a technology tuneup! Here are some typical items we check when we're tuning up your digital life:
Jensen Gelfond is the Founder of Asheville Digital Lifestyle. He helps people use their technology more effectively and joyfully.