Monday, 22 April 2019

How I Use Online Storage

Here is how I use online storage options ( your choices may be different)

There are free and paid versions of most online storage services. You can simplify your life, if you pay more, by using one service primarily for all your storage and pay for the highest amount of space you can afford. However, for me, money is a major factor in my choices, so I try to find a way to maximize my storage at minimal cost.

I pay $1.50 or so per month for the first paid tier of iCloud storage, and I use it exclusively for backing up my Apple devices. I don’t do full backups. I find that if  I ever get a newer device I’d rather start fresh and simply restore my notes, contacts, safari bookmarks, calendars, reminders and photos. I pay for the extra space because of photos.
If you prefer to simply restore an old iPad, all settings intact, to a new one, be sure you have enough space to do full backups. iCloud storage plans are reasonably priced in comparison to some other services. 
You can use iCloud backup on your Mac, and you can also get iCloud for Windows and use iCloud Drive to back up folders on your PC, but if sharing files is important, and easy access across all devices, some other services can be simpler.

My all time favorite of all the services is still Dropbox, but for 1TB of space it’s around $99 per year. I would absolutely pay that if I could but for now I use the 2GB free plan and I use it mostly for files I want to share with others.
I find Dropbox’s shared folders options, and easy to use Dropbox links options, nice and easy when I want to share files.

Since I have Office 365, which, to save costs, I share with several other people, I have 1TB of OneDrive space (each person I share with has their own 1TB of space) so even though I still prefer Dropbox in some ways, I use my OneDrive space as my primary storage and backup. When I built up my computer I installed a second hard drive for my personal files, separate from my Windows and Programs Files. I save all documents, photos, videos, music and downloads to that drive and have it automatically back up to OneDrive.

Google Drive
I also have a free plan with Google Drive and I use that to store my e-book collection.
The reason for that is that I share my books with family members so I can give them access to that drive without them having access to any other files.
Their are other services available with free plans out there, like Box and Mozy, but I like Google Drive and I think that it isn’t going away anytime soon.

In summary
for Apple Devices I use iCloud
For sharing features I love Dropbox
For cost purposes I use OneDrive
For a single use option I use Google Drive

I have downloaded apps for all these services on my iPad and can therefore add them all to the files app. I can then access all my stored files in one app. That’s really useful.

Your choices could well be different to mine. This blog post is not so much a recommendation of any particular online storage plan, but more an example of how you can use online storage plans to your own benefit.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

What are all these accounts that I’ve accumulated??

Quick Note: Most user IDS are an email address, so it’s possible that you have the same user ID for more than one account – that doesn’t mean that it’s the same account, just that you are using the same email address as the ID – of course some people also use the same password for everything – or a variant – that can be confusing and it’s certainly not secure.

You will likely find yourself accruing all manner of User IDs and passwords for software and services.
There are accounts for Online Banking, Social Media; like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, some accounting or business software like Quicken or QuickBooks - the list is endless
It can also be confusing.
My best advice is this – as soon as you sign up for ANYTHING requiring a user name and password, IMMEDIATELY make a note of it in a safe and secure password keeper (like Keepass or LastPass)
And try to use very different passwords. That’s why you will want that password keeper!

Then there are those accounts which seem to cover a vast array of services, not just one thing like Online Banking.
Here is an example of three of the most popular account that many of us now have, and some of what they cover. The list is not intended to be fully comprehensive.

Microsoft Account
This user name and passwords lets you into all things Microsoft related
This usually means:
·         Your Computer itself (if you are running Windows)
·         All things Microsoft Office related, especially if you purchased a subscription to Office 365

·         Word
·         Excel
·         PowerPoint
·         Outlook
·         Access
·         Publisher
·         OneDrive (Microsoft’s online storage)

·         The Windows store (where you can download free or purchase Apps for Windows 10)
·         Skype – it’s now owned by Microsoft

Apple ID
Your Apple ID and password unlocks all things Apple
 (not the passcode for logging into your phone, that’s different)
This could include
·         iTunes
·         The Apple App store
·         The Mac store if you have an Apple PC

Google Account
This one is often the one most overlooked and underrated but can actually be very useful
Google owns
·         Google – the Search Engine
·         Google Chrome – the web browser
·         Gmail
·         YouTube
·         Google Maps
·         Google Keep – if you haven’t checked out this online Notes App it’s worth a look
·         Google Drive (much like Dropbox or OneDrive)
·         Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides etc. (these are Google’s online versions of Office apps like Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint)
….and much much more!

You can of course use Chrome and the Google search engine without logging in with your Google account, but logging in opens up many more options as it keeps a history of things like YouTube searches, map searches and so on, gives you access to your online storage and Gmail, and keeps you updated with YouTube channel subscriptions.
It keeps your devices in sync too, so if you sign in with your Google account on one device and then also sign in on another, the same info will be available right away.

If you get more familiar with when and where you use each account, it can get less confusing when you find yourself at a log in screen wondering what User ID and password is required.
Just remember that a lot can be found out about you from your various accounts, so keep security in mind. Keep passwords secure, change them if you feel they might have been compromised, and sign out of your accounts if you are allowing someone else to use your computer without your presence or supervision.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Amp Up Your Security

If there is one thing I hear from all my clients is that they just don’t want to spend any more money on things for their computer!
I hear you…
Do you buy….
  • ·         Home Insurance?
  • ·         Car Insurance?
  • ·         Life Insurance?
  • ·         Travel Insurance?

No one likes to spend the money on things that you may never even use, but the alternative, not being covered if you really need it, is much worse.
I’m often told: “There is nothing on my computer that I really care about”(Then of course if they lose it all they find out there is) But that is what backups are for.

Antivirus\Anti-Malware programs are more about insurance against threats to your personal info.
So yes, a bad piece of Malware can cause loss of files, and cost you time or money rebuilding your computer system, but the biggest threat is identity theft. Your computer holds more information about you than you think, and a savvy hacker can build a picture of you, and possibly even access financial records and passwords.
So make sure you have protection, and keep up with - or take advice from someone else who keeps up with – what programs are keeping pace with the latest threats.
One simple option is to do a Google search on something like:

“Best antivirus and anti-malware programs 2018”

Don’t read old posts, and don’t just rely on whatever you’ve always used, as some programs have fallen by the wayside as far as protection against newer threats like Ransomware – whereas some companies have really improved their programs, so the top 5 or so tend to change.
Don’t follow links to Ads – you want independent reviews from places like PC World or PC Magazine or the like.
The pages with AD in the description will often top the search result list but could well be very biased
Also remember that the lines have blurred between Malware and Virus protection. To be honest, you are less likely to be hit by a classic virus, and much more likely to run into Malware, or a scam, or a rogue fake website, or an email with fake links, as Malware is all about making money off of the unwary.

So be suspicious of all things that don’t look right. Don’t follow links in emails that want to collect personal info, and never be innocent enough to believe that Revenue Canada will all of a sudden send you an email to let you know you have money to collect 😊!

Caution helps a lot, but protective software is also part of the armor you need.

At its inception, Microsoft’s offering, Windows Defender, that’s been built into all recent copies of Windows, showed some promise, but in latest tests it has fallen far behind in how much it catches.
It’s certainly not enough on its own any more. I still turn it on, but I also have the Premium version of Malwarebytes that I pay an annual subscription for. These days you really do need to pay something for decent protection. The free offerings, by themselves, are simply not cutting it.
As always all of this is subject to change (and other opinions vary) and a really good free option may well be a possibility in the future, but as of the writing of this Blog Post I feel you need to pay something for decent protection.

Since Malwarebytes is not a typical antivirus program it can still be run alongside something else, whereas most antivirus programs need to be Lone Stars – you can only install one as otherwise they conflict with each other.

What you choose to purchase is up to you.
  • ·         Check out the latest top 5, pick something,
  • ·         Be prepared to pay a little
  • ·         Educate yourself to the extent you can about Virus and malware behavior
  • ·         Don’t let the scammers scam you

And of course:

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Is this the year you will finally do backups?

I know, I know, I nag everyone horribly about backups. However, every year at least one of my friends, relatives or clients, despite my nagging, loses some important files due to hardware failure.


They don’t have a back up and I always ask, why?
Usually the answer is either:

I forgot how to do it.
I meant to do it, but I just didn’t have the time.

Now you all know I’m a VERY frugal person, I have to be. However sometimes it’s worth paying a little for something that makes life easier. So I decided to research backup software, to find something that might solve these two issues.
It needs to be:
  • ·         Easy to set up and use
  • ·         Capable of running a backup on a schedule

My favorite is this one:

EaseUS ToDo Backup

There is a free version, however the free version dos not back up or restore Outlook email files, so if that is important to you, consider paying for the version that does. It’s US$29
It’s easy to set up and there are even some decent YouTube tutorial videos for those of you who like to have a visual guide.
You can also schedule full or incremental backups. The one caveat is of course that you need another drive to back up to. You could purchase an external USB drive and leave it plugged in all the time – which really is a set it and forget it solution. However, if the disaster that strikes is not just a failure of the main hard drive, but, say, a system wide virus, or physical damage, that external drive will be lost as well. If, instead, you can simply remember to plug in your external drive at least once a week, perhaps one night at bedtime, and set the backup schedule to run at, for example, 1:00am (at least that one night a week) you could then store that drive away from your main PC the rest of the time.

Do you need backup software?
No, not really. You can do all of this manually. The problem is that many people simply don’t. So possibly a solution that required only one action (once the initial backup options are set) and that is to plug in a drive once a week or so, would make more people do it.

The sad thing is that a lot of people think they don’t have much of importance to back up – but when they lose everything they suddenly realize they were wrong.

Backups are essential! Every computer user should know how to do it.

Realistically I don’t have time to log in and do a backup regularly for every computer user I help. I’m happy though to help someone get set up the first time and set up a good back up schedule.

Let this be the year you finally plan a good schedule for backups!

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

How to Securely Wipe the Free Space on Your Windows PC

This is mostly copied from an excellent article on the GroovyPost Website by Lori Kaufman, Oct 3 2017
with some additional text by me

Original article

When you delete files from your hard drive, did you know that the file never actually gets deleted from your hard drive and is normally able to be recovered using readily available recovery tools? Normally this isn’t an issue as we use our computer each day. However, if you’re planning to sell or donate your computer and don’t want your old data to be recoverable, follow the steps below to wipe the free space on your hard drive. The process is the same and will work on Windows 7, 8 and Windows 10.

People often say to me “there is nothing on my hard drive that I care about if someone sees”,  but bear in mind that an experienced hacker can build a profile of someone from a set of files on a PC, and can often guess passwords, or find those passwords within those files. This leaves a person vulnerable to Identity theft, with all the ensuing headaches.

What really happens when you delete a file?
When you delete a file on your computer, the only thing that’s removed is the reference to it in the master file table. The file still exists on your hard drive, however Windows just doesn’t know where the file is. This is because as mentioned earlier, you’re only removing the indexes and the links to the data and telling Windows it has permission to overwrite that area of the hard drive.
So, until (and possibly after) the data is written over, it can be recovered by special tools or the right set of skills. The tools, or an experienced hacker, can scan the hard drive and look for the files and restore the links and indexes so Windows can see the files again. If you’re selling a computer, or even disposing of one, you should securely wipe the free space on your PC’s hard drive so the files cannot be recovered.
(if the computer is old, and is simply headed for the recycle depot, you could just remove the hard drive and drill a hole in it, to render it inoperable, but make sure that hole, or holes, goes right through the middle of the hard drive)
Here is how to use the cipher command on the command line to securely write over the free space several times to make sure no data can be recovered. There are also some third-party tools that do the same thing.

Before using the cipher command to securely overwrite the free space on your hard drive, be sure you quit all programs. That ensures the maximum amount of free space is securely wiped.
Click the Cortana icon or the Search icon on the Taskbar and start typing “command prompt”. Then, click Command Prompt under Best match.


Type the following command at the prompt and press Enter.
cipher /w:C

Data that is not allocated to any files or folders is overwritten three times and permanently removed. This can take a long time if you are overwriting a large amount of free space.
Cipher goes through the following steps as it securely wipes the free space on your hard drive.
1.    The cipher command automatically creates a new folder on the C drive called EFSTMPWP and then creates a file in that folder with nothing but zeros in it. It will grow until the hard drive fills up.
2.    Then, cipher deletes that file and creates a second file which is filled with the number 255 repeatedly until the file grows big enough to fill the free space on the hard drive again.
3.    Next, cipher deletes the second file, creates a third file, and fills that with random numbers until your hard drive is full again.
4.    Finally, cipher deletes the third file and returns you to the prompt. Type exit at the prompt to close the Command Prompt window.
So, essentially, cipher wrote over the free space (old files) on your hard drive three times to make sure no one could ever scan your hard drive and recover the data you deleted from it.
If you watch your hard drive space, as cipher does its thing, don’t be surprised when you see your hard drive fill up. This is normal as mentioned in the steps above and the space will be freed again.


If you’re not comfortable using the command line, there’s a free utility called CCleaner that allows you to securely wipe the free space on your hard drive.
Be sure you install or update to the latest version.
There are two versions of CCleaner, free and paid. The feature that wipes the free space on your hard drive is available in the free version, so that will do just fine.
Once you’ve downloaded CCleaner and installed it, or updated it, open the program and click Tools on the left pane. Choose Free Space Only from the Wipe drop-down list. Make sure you DO NOT select Entire Drive, as this will erase ALL the files on your hard drive—unless that is what you mean to do. If you’re getting rid of the PC, you can use the Entire Drive option to wipe the entire drive. Be very careful when making this selection.
Select the type of overwrite procedure you want from the Security drop-down list. Simple Overwrite is fine for most situations. However, if you want CCleaner to behave like the cipher command, select Advanced Overwrite (3 passes). Finally, select the drive on which you want to securely wipe the free space in the Drives box and click Wipe.


Another option for making sure your deleted data cannot be recovered is to delete your files and folders securely in the first place.
Eraser is a free, advanced security tool for Windows that allows you to securely delete data from your hard drive by overwriting it several times with carefully selected patterns, like the cipher command and CCleaner. The difference is you can do this when you delete the files and folders, not after. You can also securely wipe the free space on your hard drive to be extra safe.
When you download Eraser and install it, an option is added to the context (right-click) menu in File Explorer. Instead of deleting files and folders normally by pressing the Delete key, sending them to the recycle bin, and then emptying the recycle bin, you can use Eraser directly in File Explorer to securely delete files and folders.
To securely delete one or more files or folders, select what you want to delete, right-click on the selection, and then go to Eraser > Erase on the popup menu.

If you are uncomfortable with any of these options, but you are selling, gifting, or disposing of a PC, ask someone you trust to run one of these commands or software options for you. Even if you have to pay  for their time, it’s worth it for the peace of mind of knowing that your data cannot be compromised.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Understanding Basic Computer Terms

Recently a sad experience by one of my clients underlined for me the importance of proper communication, and explaining computer terms that are well known and understood by those in the industry, but might not be understood by those not so familiar with them.
A client was having problems with her computer. She took it to a repair shop. The technician said to her:
“We will have to send this away for repair. It will likely need to be reformatted. Have you saved everything you need?”

She heard:
‘The formatting needs changing? I guess that means that they have to change a couple of things to make it work better. I have written down all my passwords, so yes I’ve saved all of that’

He was really saying:
‘This needs REFORMATTING – that term means that all of your files; your documents, pictures, music, videos, emails etc will be wiped off. All of your programs will be wiped off. We will be putting a fresh copy of Windows on. In other words, when you get it back, it will be like you just bought it from the store.
Have you saved everything? In other words, did you back up your files; did you copy all of your documents, photos, music, emails etc onto an external drive so that you can put them all back onto your computer when you get it back?
What about your programs. If you purchased them online and have files that you downloaded to install them, did you save all those installers, and any information about keys, or licenses, so you can reinstall those programs without paying again?’

She did not understand any of that, and was devastated when she got her computer back and found that all of her documents, and especially her photos, were all gone.

Of course, the technician was remiss in not ensuring that she understood the terms he was using, but it is also worth noting that if you are using a computer, it’s good to become familiar with a few important terms such as:

Reformat   Backup
Malware    Virus
Megabytes  Gigabytes
Web Browser   File manager
Flash Drive   External Drive
Upload    Download
Cloud  Online Storage
Copy and Paste  Drag and Drop name just a few

You can always start a list of terms that you come across that you don’t fully understand, and ask someone knowledgeable in the computer world to explain them to you - or look them up in a Google search.

Also, get familiar with the software that you rely on every day, and know how you acquired it – on a disk or through a download? Was it a trial version that was loaded on your computer when you bought it, and you later purchased the full version? Is it subscription based (you renew it yearly)?
Do you have a list of the license codes for all of your purchased software?

You don’t need to be a computer technician by any means, but familiarising yourself with some key words and phrases can be helpful in better understanding what a technician is explaining to you should you need help. It can also help if you are searching for online assistance, as it can help you better understand instructions you might read online.

If you do face a situation where a tech is telling you something, and you don’t understand the terminology - ASK! Don’t be embarrassed to say that you don’t understand the terms being used. Sometimes techs simply don’t think to explain terms, because they are so familiar with them themselves.

Everyone has their own “are of expertise” If computers are not your area, that’s perfectly ok, but not getting something explained could cost you dearly, as it did my client recently.

One day you might be grateful that you know what Reformat means – and that you knew how to do a Backup!

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Which Office Suite is the right choice for you?

Most computer users make use of some version of an “Office Suite” of programs, which usually includes a document writer, spreadsheet creator, slide creator and player, and possibly an email client.
The most well known is Microsoft Office, which includes:
Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote - and in some of it’s versions, Outlook (the email client)
Some versions also add:
Publisher (for creating business cards, posters, newsletters and other desktop publishing items)
Access (a database manager)
There are a couple free office Suites that can be downloaded. They have fewer features, and rarely include an email client, but they can suffice for those with simple needs.
One of the most notable of the free suites is LibraOffice; though there is also the option of using an online suite of programs like Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, etc.
Microsoft is pushing all it’s loyal users to switch to Office 365, which is subscription based, and has stated that it will end support of any of its stand-alone products by 2020.
So where do you stand?
If you have a real need for the impressive features built into Microsoft Office, and especially if you hate to give up Outlook for email, then it’s probably time to bite the bullet and opt for Office365, and budget for an annual subscription fee. If you have friends or family that would like to share with you, you can legally share one subscription with up to 5 users, all of whom will have their own Microsoft Account, so you will only be sharing access to the Programs, not sharing any personal data. That makes Office365 much more affordable.
However if you want to jump ship altogether and opt for a less full featured, but free, option, maybe choosing  LibraOffice, or even moving everything to an online system like Google’s is for you.
Bear in mind that these are free, so not only will they have fewer features, but there is no guarantee that they will continue to be offered.
Of course, you can use those free versions, and save your files in Microsoft Office compatible formats, like doc, docx, or xls etc. That way your files will always be accessible even if you change to another suite or system later.
Using Google Docs may have some limits to this type of conversion, and even LibraOffice may lose a little in translation, but for the most part it will work.
So the answer to:
Where do I stand?
is very individual. It depends on your personal needs and preferences, and of course your budget.
If there is one decision I encourage many people to make if possible, is to change your email to a Gmail address. I know this can be a bit of a pain in the transition, since you have to let all of your contacts know. I personally haven’t even made that full switch over yet, though I will be doing so in the next month or so. If you move to Gmail, which is stable and well supported, you can probably take the need for an email client out of the Office Suite decision, which can make the choice easier and cheaper.
If you are not a business owner, but are using Outlook now, take a look at Gmail, Google Notes, Google Keep, Google Calendar, all of which are full featured and stable, and ask yourself if you really need what Outlook has to offer.
Maybe you are the right candidate for a simple free Office Suite and free Google Apps.
One thing is sure, before long this decision will need to be made, since options will become more limited.
Here are a couple of good resource pages with helpful information:

And this article about safety issues with regard to  using older versions of Office:

My decision was to opt for Office365 and share the $99 a year cost with 4 other people. Your decision may be different, but you do want to choose something that has been around a while, and will likely remain around. That is especially true for email – which is why I recommend Gmail as It has become well established and has easy to use apps for all computer, tablet and phone systems.

What will your decision be?