Author: Elijah Hopkins

Tech Support Scams and PUPs

Tech Support Scams and PUPs

TECH SUPPORT SCAMS AND POTENTIALLY UNWANTED PROGRAMS

"Some scammers call and claim to be computer techs associates with well-known companies like Microsoft or Apple. Other scammers send pop-up messages that warn about computer problems. They say they've detected viruses or other malware on your computer. They claim to be 'tech support' and will ask you to give them remote access to your computer. Eventually, they'll diagnose a non-existent problem and ask you to pay for unnecessary -- or even harmful -- services."

This is what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) describes as a 'tech support scam'. In this blog post, we'll explore a number of similar scams that fall under the same umbrella; that is, scammers and hackers pretending to be tech support in order to access your computer or data, whether it occurs over the phone, online chat, in-person or through a malicious, unwanted program installed on your computer. Follow along with us as we explore the various methods of these con artists and how to thwart them before you become a victim.

Fake Tech Support Scam Colorado Springs PC Pro
Beware PC repair websites that advertise remote support. This one is a scam!

To counter the tech support scam threat, it is important to understand exactly what these criminals are after. It may not seem like much to you, but your data is actually extremely valuable to hackers. Even if you place a low value on your photos, documents and videos, hackers can often piece together small bits of data found across many files to create the 'big picture', your identity. Think about what you have saved on your computer: tax documents, scans of your drivers license, birth certificate or social security card, receipts for large purchases, your address, account names and passwords stored in your web browser and bank information. Even if hackers don't plan on using this data themselves, it is remarkably easy to offer identities up for sale on the dark web, often in large lots from multiple compromised computers.

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Now that you understand the value of your data and why it needs protecting, let's discuss what you can do to spot scammers and stop them in their tracks. First of all, you must be suspicious of everyone and everything asking for access to your computer. If you didn't initiate contact with a tech support agent, it is almost guaranteed that being contacted unsolicited is a scam. These con-artists take advantage of the complicated nature of computers to convince less tech-saavy users to simply give up control, but you know better than that! If you receive a call claiming to be tech support that you didn't schedule or arrange, it is a scam, even if the caller ID data appears legitimate. It is common for criminals to 'spoof', or fake caller ID names to appear legitimate (enough) to complete the scam. Similarly, unexpected popups often use the logos and branding of major corporations to convince you that they are legitimate. When in doubt, it is a good idea to close the popup by clicking the 'x' in the corner of the window. If you are overly suspicious or the popup seems legitimate, look up the phone number for the company using your favorite search engine and call that number from your phone to confirm. Do not call the number provided by the popup!

Fake Tech Support Scam Colorado Springs PC Pro
This Norton Antivirus lookalike is also a scam - beware!

You may even be subjected to high-pressure sales tactics if you become a target of these scammers. Fake tech support agents may use lots of technical terms, or jargon, to frame themselves as an expert and prevent you from properly participating in the conversation. In their minds, they want you to be as scared and confused as possible so that you agree to their proposed 'solution', which is usually asking for remote access into your computer. They may even try to get you to buy into their scheme by guiding you through some simple processes on your computer, like checking files or typing commands into the command prompt, to convince you that you have a problem by being polite and helpful -- just like a real technician. Don't fall for it! The last step they ask for will always involve gaining remote access to your computer or getting you to pay for something. With remote access, the scammers will have permanent access to your computer, day and night, and can do anything they choose with it, like viewing video through your webcam or using your computer as part of a Botnet to hack bigger targets.

POTENTIALLY UNWANTED PROGRAMS

To change gears a little, most scams we have seen, particularly in Southern Colorado and Colorado Springs, do not actually involve a phone call. They are conducted entirely online via program downloads and are often welcomed by the victims who believe they need the scam program for one reason or another. It is also common to bundle unwanted programs with legitimate free software without properly disclosing this to the user. This method involves preying on victims searching for computer help. For example, if you search for 'remote computer repair', you are bombarded with similar-looking websites offering to help. What can you do to figure out if 'LogOnfixIt' or 'OnlineComputerRepair' are legitimate? Simply put, don't trust anything you haven't already heard of. If you really need something an unknown site is offering, run an additional search specifically about the company with the word 'scam' in the query; for example, 'LogOnFixIt scam'. This will show you if any consumers have been scammed by the company and if you can expect the level of service you deserve from them. Searching for a company on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is also usually helpful.

Fake Tech Support Scam Colorado Springs PC Pro
Both the blue screen and the popup are scams disguised as Windows warnings.

Many of these sites will install a program on your computer that is not necessarily malicious, but rather unwanted. We've all seen them: the programs that start up as soon as your computer loads, bug you over and over to upgrade to the paid version and frequently cause you to stop what you're doing to pay attention to them. These programs are best uninstalled using a powerful uninstall tool, like IOBit Uninstaller, which removes all remnants of uninstalled programs to make sure they don't come back to haunt you, as they often do. A short list of programs that fall under this criteria, also known as Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs):

  • BrowserDefender
  • BrowserManager
  • Web Assistant
  • MyPcBackup
  • PCSpeedUp
  • Safe Search
  • 1ClickDownload
  • CouponDropDown
  • Superfish
  • Yahoo/Ask/Google Toolbar(s)

As you can see, not all of these programs have names that sound malicious. A program called 'PCSpeedUp' sounds useful if your computer is slow, and it will appear that way when you run it. Your inability to close, delete or uninstall the program is what makes the program dangerous. Combine this with the fact that the program is most likely also collecting your personal information for the private gain of others and you have a recipe for disaster. Remember, you only want well-established, high-quality programs on your computer. If you don't know where a program came from, call us at (719) 345-2345 to determine if it is harmful or not. We care about your security and privacy at PC Pro.

Fake Tech Support Scam Colorado Springs PC Pro
Another blue screen scam, masquerading as a standard Windows error screen.

Not sure if you've been infected? Most modern anti-malware and anti-virus programs are capable of notifying you. Here at PC Pro, we recommend using MalwareBytes Antimalware, BitDefender antivirus, or Avira antivirus to stay safe both on- and offline. Of course, Windows Defender and Firewall should always be enabled and running simultaneously with your antivirus program. Since some PUPs may actually be beneficial or wanted, like programs by IOBit or McAfee, these malware scanning programs will only alert you to their presence and let you decide if they should be removed or not.

If you still have doubts after reading this article, or if your computer is simply not running like it used to or you are experiencing unwanted popups and advertisements, you should call PC Pro today to schedule a free consultation and PUP removal.

Gallery: DC-In Jack Replacement for Dell Inspiron 15 7568

Gallery: DC-In Jack Replacement for Dell Inspiron 15 7568

POWER JACK REPLACEMENT

We responded to a service call today to replace the power adapter port on a Dell Inspiron 15 (model 7568). Upon initial inspection, it was clear that the power port had broken off inside the laptop case and was dangling loose. Any attempt to plug in the adapter just pushed the adapter around inside the laptop shell.

One cheap replacement part and 15 minutes was all it took to get this laptop back up to speed. We had to use a bit of glue to secure the mounting hardware that snapped off inside the laptop case, but it was a relatively straightforward job, overall.

GALLERY

iDrive Automatic Online Data Backup

iDrive Automatic Online Data Backup

WHO NEEDS DATA BACKUP?

Have you considered what would happen if you suddenly lost all the data on your computer, laptop or phone? Years of family photos, taxes and bank documents, personal videos and even your iTunes account could be gone in an instant. Many of us have already experienced the displeasure of an unexpected hard drive failure or a computer that simply can't be fixed, and it can be frustrating. With automatic Cloud file backup through IDrive, our preferred data backup solution, you can rest easy knowing that your files will never be lost, all for less than five bucks a month.

But what is the Cloud, anyway? To simplify the concept a bit, the Cloud is simply someone else's computer. Storing your data in the Cloud means you are uploading your data to servers that are publicly available to the Internet and owned by a corporation or government. This means you can access your files anywhere you can find an Internet connection. Unfortunately, it also raises certain (easily avoided) security concerns, but we'll talk about that a bit later.

"I don't really care about my personal files."

-No One, Ever.

WHAT IS IDRIVE?

IDrive is just one of many data backup software solutions, but it is the program of choice here at Colorado PC Pro. For around $50, you get 2 Terabytes of data storage (That's 2,000 Gigabytes, more than almost anyone needs), file encryption during data transfer and storage, the ability to sync files between multiple computers and more. The robust user interface and plentiful options allow you to customize a plan specific to your needs, such as backing up all photos, documents and videos while skipping your folder full of martial arts movies. This allows you to maximize your storage space and keep data transfers to a minimum.

iDrive backup screen
The Backup screen allows you to select what folders contain important files

It should come as no surprise that I actually use IDrive on my personal computer. At Colorado PC Pro, we practice what we preach. We give you the programs we use at home, only install Smart Home devices we have personally tried and we treat you like family. We are not affiliated with IDrive or any other software company -- we simply believe in this product enough to offer an annual subscription of IDrive automatic online file backup with each computer maintenance plan we manage in Colorado Springs.

IDrive delivers a clean, user-friendly interface that is easy to navigate. Large tabs labeled 'Backup', 'Restore', and 'Settings' are self-explanatory and direct you to the features you are looking for quickly. If you can navigate folders in Windows, you can use IDrive, which uses the same process to select files and folders. There is also a backup scheduler built into the main menu. Once you have completed your initial upload, you can set IDrive to check for new files to update at any time -- preferably in the middle of the night, when the excess Internet usage won't slow down other services.

iDrive settings menu
The settings have just about everything you could ask for

WHY YOU SHOULD USE IDRIVE

Aside from the obvious benefit of never losing your important files and data, IDrive is pretty darned cheap. There are constant promotions on IDrive's homepage, so you can usually pick up a software license for around $50 per year. That's less than $5 a month -- a fantastic price for data security and peace of mind. You probably wouldn't think twice about buying a $5 soda at the movies, so why turn data backup into a painstaking decision? We are here to make it easy for you, and we can even come to your home to set up your IDrive account the way you want it, on your terms, and fast.

Do you frequently transfer files between computers, laptops and other devices in your household? Do you ever e-mail documents to yourself so that you can access them from anywhere? I know I do. IDrive's sync feature is easy to overlook if you're only focused on online data backup, but it can be extremely useful. Instead of going through your self-created hassle, just set up a single folder on your computer designated for IDrive file sync. All of your computers can share your IDrive account, and they will all sync that folder as often as you tell them to. Want the folder updated every time you add something? Done, and instantly accessible from any of your other computers.

Persistent data backup is becoming more and more important every day. Take, for example, the recent introduction of 'ransomware' to the Internet. Ransomware is a new term used to describe a computer virus that holds your computer hostage. Specifically, ransomware encrypts your computer hard drive and only provides you with the decryption key once you have paid a huge sum of money, typically around $500, to the scammers. If you don't pay, your files are permanently encrypted with no chance of recovery. With IDrive, you know that your files are always backed up, current and safe from hackers. While ransomware would still be serious, it would not be impossible to recover from.

iDrive automatic online cloud file data backup
IDrive sync allows you to share files between all of your computers and devices

ANY CONCERNS?

For everything IDrive does, it doesn't do the best job explaining to the casual computer user how it all happens. That's what we're here for, and we know you have questions. If you can't find your concerns addressed here, call us at (719)345-2345 and we'll do our best to keep you informed.

As I mentioned earlier, Cloud storage means that files are accessible from the Internet, which is usually considered a security risk; however, IDrive uses the 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) to transfer and store your files. That means that even if your files were sniffed during a routine backup or outright stolen from IDrive's servers they would be nothing more than encrypted, garbled nonsense to hackers. This is considered better than industry-standard data protection.

The next main concern is the time and data it takes to upload your files to the Cloud. In my case, I selected only my photos, documents, school and work documents to be backed up. Since I have decades of digital photos, the total size was 60 Gigabytes. Keep in mind, you are allowed to store 2,000 Gigabytes with your IDrive subscription. To upload my data, it took almost a week straight of running IDrive overnight. I may have forgotten a night here and there, but that is still a long time. If you have much more files than me, say, over 250 Gigabytes, uploading over the Internet is simply not a realistic option.

Thankfully, you can actually ship your data to IDrive. If you don't want to upload an enormous amount of data or simply don't have the time, you can request a hard drive be shipped to your house, back up your data onto it, and ship it back to be stored on the Cloud. For advanced users, you can connect IDrive to a Microsoft Exchange or Oracle server for streamlined home business operations.

Idrive online cloud file data backup
You can even clone an entire hard drive in IDrive - great for disaster recovery
Hands-on with HackerBoxes ‘Hacker Tracker’ #0021

Hands-on with HackerBoxes ‘Hacker Tracker’ #0021

HACKER TRACKER

'HackerBoxes' is a monthly subscription box sent to aspiring hackers, nerds and tinkerers alike. Of course, when we talk about hackers, we're not talking about the hood-wearing, bank-account-emptying type. When we talk about hackers, we're imagining the bygone days of soldering EEPROMs onto circuit boards, bypassing long-distance telephone charges and tinkering with computer hardware just to see what you could make it do. HackerBoxes is an homage to this concept of a hacker, bringing hardware tinkering to a new level with modern technology like Arduino microcontrollers, GPS sensors, SD cards and surreptitious power supplies.

HackerBox 0021 Hands-on Assembly and Experimentation by Colorado PC Pro in Colorado Springs
Unboxing HackerBoxes #0021: Hacker Tracker

UNBOXING

Opening up the nondescript First Class package revealed a colorful mixture of components, diagrams and swag. This kit, dubbed 'Hacker Tracker', comes with an Arduino Nano micro-controller, a satellite GPS receiver chip, a magnetometer/accelerometer chip, a Micro-SD card read/write chip, a USB Micro-SD card reader, a Kingston 16 Gigabyte Micro-SD card, Breadboard, Micro USB cable, jumper cables in various colors and lengths, a HackerBoxes sticker and pin-out diagrams for the included chips. Additionally, a really cool ruler made from printed circuit board adds a nice touch to the package.

Although light on instructions, the package indicated that a tutorial was available online. Navigating to the HackerBoxes website reveals links to 'H4X0R SK00L', a 'leet speak' play on the term 'Hacker School'. Here, each box is linked to its own Instructables page that serves as the official tutorial. You can find the tutorial for the Hacker Tracker box here.

HackerBox 0021 Hands-on Assembly and Experimentation by Colorado PC Pro in Colorado Springs
The Arduino Nano (left) and SD card reader (right) mounted to the breadboard

LET'S GET STARTED

The first few paragraphs of the tutorial serve as an orientation to the HackerBox and Arduino architecture. I suspect that the first HackerBox sent to a new customer is partially random, so it is important to catch up on the prerequisite skills like soldering and the navigating the Arduino Integrated Developer's Environment (IDE) in each tutorial. HackerBoxes will remind you of that here and prior to critical steps throughout the project. It may seem repetitive, but serves to highlight some very important information you can't afford to ignore.

After absorbing an absurd amount of information from the Instructable, I was finally introduced to the meat of the project. As seen in the photo above, the Arduino Nano is mounted across the center-line of the breadboard opposite the Micro-SD card reader board. Conductive metal pins extending from these chips connect with metal strips running throughout the inside of the breadboard, allowing us to electrically connect different devices by attaching jumper cables between their pins. For example, the green jumper cable in the photo connects the GND pin of the Arduino Nano to the GND pin of the Micro-SD card reader. The other cables serve their own purposes, including data transmission and providing low-voltage DC power.

I ran into my first snag on this step. Misinterpreting the pin-out diagram on the Arduino website caused me to connect the 5V jumper cable to the wrong pin on the Arduino Nano. Troubleshooting the issue when I couldn't access the Micro-SD card through the Arduino IDE took almost 10 minutes. Once I noticed the problem, simply moving the jumper cable to the correct pin resulted in a successful test run of the program we have created so far in our IDE, as you can see in the photo below.

HackerBox 0021 Hands-on Assembly and Experimentation by Colorado PC Pro in Colorado Springs
The Micro-SD program writes lines of text to a memory card

Moving right along, I test the Micro-SD card in my laptop to verify that the data is, in fact, written to the card as the Arduino program described. It worked! Feeling excited about my initial success, I move onto the next step of integrating a GPS receiver into the project.

TRACKER SOLDER

The NEO-6M GPS receiver can be powered by a Micro USB cable or by 5V low voltage DC power. In our setup, the Arduino Nano is utilizing the included Micro USB cable, so I chose to install headers on the GPS receiver to mount it on the breadboard. Headers are the metal pins that are inserted into the holes on the breadboard. Since the GPS receiver didn't come with the pins already attached, I soldered the headers included in the HackerBox supplies to it. This allowed me to create electrical connections between the GPS receiver and other breadboard components.

HackerBox 0021 Hands-on Assembly and Experimentation by Colorado PC Pro in Colorado Springs
The GPS receiver (lower right) had to be soldered onto headers before installation

This time, I didn't make any mistakes running jumper cables. After connecting four pins to the Arduino Nano, I copy/pasted the example program code from the tutorial and uploaded it to the device. Opening the serial monitor allowed me to view the data being sent or received. Upon initial analysis, it looked like the project was successfully logging my exact GPS coordinates every second onto the attached Micro-SD card.

It was time to verify our data. Moving the Micro-SD card to the laptop, I load the GPS coordinate file into GPS Visualizer, a website that can overlay your GPS data onto many different map layers, including Google satellite and terrain images. As I suspected, red lines indicate the home I am currently sitting in. A couple outlying points are easily explained as early measurements taken before many satellites were locked onto. Creepy!

HackerBox 0021 Hands-on Assembly and Experimentation by Colorado PC Pro in Colorado Springs
Loading the GPS coordinates into a GPS visualizer show my current location

ANGRY ACCELEROMETER

In the tutorial, the final piece of the project, a magnetometer/accelerometer, is described as "tricky to get working correctly" and "prone to damage", so I didn't have my hopes too high on integrating it onto the board. Nonetheless, I decided to go ahead and attempt to get it up and running. Like the GPS receiver, the magnetometer/accelerometer does not come with built-in headers. After soldering another part from the HackerBoxes kit, I attach the part to the breadboard.

HackerBox 0021 Hands-on Assembly and Experimentation by Colorado PC Pro in Colorado Springs
The magnetometer/accelerometer is the small blue chip in the corner

At this point, I came to realize that I hadn't properly planned my layout before I started putting everything together. I had to slide the GPS receiver over to make space for the magnetometer. Additionally, I had only left 2 holes on the breadboard connected to each pin on the Arduino nano. With three chips to connect to the 5V and GND pins, I had to come up with another solution. Connecting a jumper cable from the 5V and GND pins to empty breadboard rails allowed me to expand the number of devices connected to each.  The finished project is shown in the photo above.

Unfortunately, powering up the Arduino IDE and uploading code designed to run the magnetometer didn't accomplish much. All hardware components of the project appear to have initialized correctly, but I received readings of 0 for all magnetometer measurements repeatedly, indicating a failure somewhere else. After trying several different fixes found online and in other tutorials, I saw no success.

HackerBox 0021 Hands-on Assembly and Experimentation by Colorado PC Pro in Colorado Springs
The magnetometer/accelerometer did not record proper measurements

All in all, I was happy with the success I did see during this project. The implications of such an inexpensive, small GPS tracking device are vast. Powering this board with a 9V battery or USB power bank and stuffing it all in a cigarette box would provide a casual hacker with an amazingly accurate GPS tracker capable of providing detailed maps of a targets movement for days, weeks or months at a time. With a couple more tweaks or components, it isn't a stretch to assume this project could be modified to remotely upload tracking data to a malicious server, record audio or video data and more.

HackerBox 0021 Hands-on Assembly and Experimentation by Colorado PC Pro in Colorado Springs
The last working version of my Hacker Tracker project

CONCLUSION

I am really looking forward to the next HackerBox project delivery. Now that I've tasted micro-controller success and understand the possibilities, I want to learn more. The packaged 'portions' you get from HackerBoxes are just enough to sate your appetite for several tinkering sessions before you fully absorb all the knowledge it contains.

Although you could buy all of the individual components for a HackerBoxes project online, the subscription model allows you to get the package deal at a modest discount to retail prices. The added production value, like printed pin-out diagram postcards, stickers and Instructables tutorials, only enhance the experience. Some aspects of the presentation leave room for improvement, like the plain white shipping box, the Chinese packaging on the Micro-SD card, or the untranslatable Chinese download website you are directed to in order to install your Arduino Nano, but all were easily overcome.

HackerBox 0021 Hands-on Assembly and Experimentation by Colorado PC Pro in Colorado Springs
HackerBox 0021 Hands-on Assembly and Experimentation by Colorado PC Pro in Colorado Springs
Smart Home Series: Ring Video Doorbell

Smart Home Series: Ring Video Doorbell

RING VIDEO DOORBELL

As part of our Smart Home series of blog posts, Elijah is installing every device we offer to our customers in his own home. Today, home security is the name of the game with the Ring Video Doorbell. Although there are several models of Ring doorbells, such as Ring 2, Ring Pro and Ring Elite, this blog post will cover our recommended version: the standard Ring Video Doorbell.

Smart Home Installation Colorado Springs

UNBOXING

Removing the Ring from its packaging is simple and straightforward. Sliding the sleeve off the box opens up a display of your new device: Ring doorbell on the left, USB cable on the right, and a host of tools filling up the middle. If you plan on installing one of these yourself, make sure to keep the screwdriver and bit, since the security bit is the only recommended way to remove your doorbell from your home to recharge. It's easy to get confused while looking at all of the extra parts that are included. If you're not sure if you need the diode or wall anchors, you should call Colorado PC Pro at (719) 345-2345 and schedule a professional installation.

Ring video doorbell installation in colorado springs

BEFORE YOU INSTALL

Before installing your Ring doorbell, there is a bit of housekeeping to do. If you have scheduled an installation appointment with Colorado PC Pro, you can take care of these items before your appointment to save yourself time and worry.

  1. Find your Wi-Fi password and keep it handy.
  2. Download the Ring app on your phones or computers.
  3. Charge your doorbell by plugging it into a computer.
  4. Decide where to install your Ring.

Your Ring will need to be added to your Wi-Fi network in order to function properly. This will occur during the setup process, but having your Wi-Fi password ready will make it much simpler. Since the Ring app is 100 Megabytes in size, it is recommended you install it using your Wi-Fi connection, rather than mobile data. You should install the Ring app on every phone and computer you anticipate using with your new doorbell.

In my experience, the Ring tends to come out of the package with absolutely no battery charge. This means you would have to charge it for a significant amount of time before completing the installation. Save the frustration by charging your Ring as soon as you open the package.

Finally, keep in mind that your doorbell might be in a bad spot to be replaced with a Ring doorbell. You must take into account where you would like the Ring to aim to record video and make sure your home has enough space to install it vertically, rather than horizontally, where your old doorbell was. If your doorbell is in a bad spot, you can simply install your Ring where you really want it, disconnect your doorbell, and buy the optional Ring Chime, which plugs into a wall outlet in your home and acts as your doorbell chime.

Ring Video Doorbell installation colorado springs

INSTALLATION

While installation is rather simple, you must take care to follow directions from start to finish. Ignoring small details could lead to your Ring displaying crooked video on your devices, your Ring not being secured properly to your home, or even electrocution from low-voltage wires that operate your doorbell.

Pay special attention to the tiny level included with your Ring. When planning where to drill the holes for your mounting plate, make sure the level reads in the center. Screw one screw in and check the level again. If it's still straight, screw in the opposite screw. Once two screws are in and the plate is level, finish the installation.

If you have an electronic doorbell, you will need to use the included diode in your circuit. You can find instructions for this on the Ring website, but it must simply bridge the two doorbell connections on your Ring. If you have a mechanical doorbell, no additional wiring is required. Simply attach either doorbell wire to either terminal on your Ring and you are done.

Not sure what type of doorbell you have? Ring it and listen: If you get the 'ding-dong' sound, like a mini bell is ringing in your house, you have a mechanical doorbell. If you get a chime or tone or pleasant jingle, your doorbell is electronic.

Ring Video Doorbell installation colorado springs

COMMON PROBLEMS

If there is one advantage to hiring a professional to install your devices, it is the ability to understand, troubleshoot and solve all of the minor problems you will encounter along the way. Keep an eye out for these problems if you attempt installation yourself:

  • The Ring doesn't actually 'ring' the doorbell.

To test if you have a problem with your Ring or with your home, remove the Ring from the mounting plate and bridge the two electrical contacts with a screwdriver or something similar. If you see a spark and the doorbell rings, the Ring is installed correctly and is simply incompatible with your doorbell system. If you can't trigger the doorbell by manually bridging the contacts, then the problem is either your doorbell or the wiring itself. Check your connections!

  • Motion sensors activate too frequently or for nothing

It is common for the Ring to bug you constantly after first installing it. It needs you to adjust settings inside the Ring app to better suit your security needs. I find that setting the motion sensor to 5 feet prevents most false alarms, but I still get the odd notification when larger vehicles stop in front of my house.

  • Okay, my Ring doesn't 'Ring', but I really want it to

That's not a huge problem. Visit the Ring website and check out their accessories. You can purchase a standard Ring Chime, which will connect to your video doorbell and ring like a normal doorbell, or the Chime Pro, which does the same thing in addition to extending your Wi-Fi range.

Ring Video Doorbell installed in Colorado Springs

GET YOURS TODAY

Ready to buy? Call Colorado PC Pro today at (719) 345-2345 for your flat-rate installation.

You can also contact us online.

Toshiba Qosmio Cleanup

Toshiba Qosmio Cleanup

DANGEROUS DUST

When your electronic devices are allowed to collect dust and grime, performance suffers. Reduced airflow leads to increased temperatures, slower performance, an increased risk of component failure and general frustration. Keeping them clean is important - we recommend you get your computer cleaned and checked out once a year to maximize its value.

If you're confident, many computers can be cleaned safely by just about anyone. Be mindful of static electricity buildup by avoiding vacuums and dry cloth and working on a hardwood or cement floor.

GALLERY

Computer Detailing – The Spaghetti Monster

Computer Detailing – The Spaghetti Monster

COMPUTER DETAILING

I dubbed this pile of cables and dust bunnies the 'Spaghetti Monster' for obvious reasons. Not only did it look terrible, it also posed a fire hazard and ran the risk of component failure at any time. Performance was notably slower than usual and the temperature was notably higher. I had the pleasure of untangling this mess earlier this week, planning a new layout for the tower and detailing the rig inside and out. Ultimately, it ended up looking like something out of a stock photo while improving overall performance.

colorado pc pro computer detailing and laptop repair
Several of these cables don't connect to anything

I noticed none of the cables had been run behind the firewall (the 'back wall' of the computer), likely due to a rush assembly job, so I routed the cables back through one of several access channels located throughout the case. Moving these cables out of the way helped me gain a better understanding of the layout of the PC, and I noticed that some devices were improperly attached or weren't receiving power. One tip for anyone considering working on their own PC is to take photos at every step of the process. I personally take photos of all cable connections and empty ports, as both can be easily overlooked during reassembly.

colorado pc pro computer detailing and laptop repair
Looking much better after a few hours of TLC

My most valuable tool for cleaning static-sensitive electronics, like laptops and computers, is the anti-static vacuum, made entirely of materials designed to resist electrostatic discharge (ESD). Although expensive, the speed of cleaning with a vacuum and the money savings on canned air make it well worth the price. Normal vacuums pose great risk to electronics, since their plastic construction interacts with fast-moving dust particles to create static electricity right where you don't want it. One touch to a hard drive, RAM stick, computer fan or PCIe card is all it takes to discharge a deadly dose of static electricity, so always wear an anti-static band even when you think it isn't necessary. All it takes is one fried motherboard to learn that lesson the hard way.

Colorado PC Pro gaming computer detailing
Closeup of the motherboard and RAM

This gaming computer was particularly bulky; in fact, it was almost double the weight of the 'spilled milk' project I took on earlier this week. The hard drives were bolted onto the frame in a metal cage that itself was part of a larger metal cage, which seemed to be rather much but allowed for up to 8 hard drives to be hot-swapped into the tower. Several extraneous parts were removed at my suggestion, including an archaic hard drive reader, a USB 3.0 expansion card and an MMC card reader that hadn't ever found use. Removing these cards reduced overall power usage, allowed me to remove some cables from the rig altogether, and contributed to improved airflow - all good things for the customer.

Colorado PC Pro gaming computer detailing
Cable conduits provide easy access to cables wherever you need them

Detailing the case inside and out can sometimes be challenging. In the case of the Spaghetti Monster, there were actual creatures living out their entire lives in this silicon landscape. Luckily, spiders aren't the worst thing I could have imagined living inside a computer the size of a pantry. Like many other things in this world, I always seem to do the first 90% of the cleaning in 10% of the time, while the last 10% of cleaning takes the other 90% of my time. Getting into corners, around fragile electronic parts and everywhere else imaginable is more of an art than a science. The combination of Q-tips, cotton balls, a microfiber cloth, rubbing alcohol and ten fingers are typically all you need to get the job done - it's how you combine them that makes you an expert.

Colorado PC Pro gaming computer detailing
Still working out the kinks in the cabling

Once everything was clean, I replaced all of the components we decided would be part of the system going forward. This time, applying a bit of planning allowed me to assemble the PC with almost no cables running inside the case. As stated before, this improves airflow and reduces processor temperatures, speeding up the computer and extending the lifetime of your components. Perhaps even more importantly, careful cable planning gives you control over the aesthetics of your machine. Anyone willing to spend used car prices for a computer should take pride in appearances - regular maintenance and detailing should not be neglected and will save you money over the lifetime of your computer.

Total Time Spent: 4 hours
Cost: $216

GALLERY

Spill Damage Recovery – Desktop Gaming Computer

Spill Damage Recovery – Desktop Gaming Computer

SPILL DAMAGE MITIGATION

I recently completed a work order to repair and detail a gaming rig that had a glass of milk spilled into it through the top fan grates. You can imagine the extent of the damage: flaky white stains covering every single component inside the oversized tower, a faint smell of dairy and more than a few 'burned' spots on the circuity indicating an electrical short. The client was able to cut power to the computer before it shorted out on its own, which was a huge indicator that recovery would be successful.

pc pro computer build motherboard
Sparkling new and fully functional

INSPECTION

Upon initial investigation, extensive contamination was discovered across all major components. Some of the RAM sticks had solidified milk on the contacts while the corresponding ports had blocked pins. All three hard drives had splash stains, the worst of which was alarmingly found on the fragile mechanical drive. The Wi-Fi wireless network card had evaporated milk coating both surfaces, the processor was spared by the liquid cooling system, which unfortunately meant that milk had cooked into the tiny, tiny blades of a miniature radiator. The graphics card was assumed dead on arrival due to the several burnt spots on its exterior - it had taken the brunt of the spill. Last but not least, the motherboard was exposed in many places; for example, not all of the eSATA ports were functional upon inspection.

spill damage on ram memory computer
Note the hardened milk around the corners and on the contact edge of the RAM stick

TROUBLESHOOTING

I attempted to boot the computer after removing the GPU and plugging an HDMI cable into the onboard graphics card. The desktop powered on and I was blinded by bright green LEDs, but I saw nothing on my monitor. A red diagnostic LED was lit on the corner of the motherboard: "DRAM". I started removing the RAM sticks one by one until I could get past this specific problem. After removing two sticks, a new diagnostic LED was lit: "Boot Device". Time to test the hard drives, I thought. I removed all three drives from the tower and tested them in a hard drive dock connected to another computer. Luckily, all three hard drives worked like a charm. This meant either the cables or the ports were bad, so I replaced the SATA cables with temporary replacements, tried plugging hard drives into each port and saw limited success. Cleaning the rest of the ports with rubbing alcohol made all of the hard drives as well as the disc drive work once again.

spill damage hard drive sata port cables
Hard drive SATA ports were shorted out by spilled liquid

Out of curiosity, I tried cleaning the graphics card. Half an hour later, once all the crusty, powdery stains were finally gone, I installed it back into the computer and successfully got the display running, which was a relief that probably saved the client hundreds of dollars. Knowing now that there was a great chance of recovering everything, I went about my craft and painstakingly swabbed dried milk from all exposed electrical contacts, brushed it out of tiny spaces with an antistatic brush, wiped out every square inch of the massive computer case, completely disassembled the machine, posed for pictures (enjoy the gallery), reassembled the machine and began testing.

liquid damage diagnostics
Running some diagnostics after reassembling the computer

QUALITY CONTROL

Miraculously, the machine booted on the first try. Navigating through the BIOS indicated that all of the major devices were fully functional. The amount of RAM was reported correctly, all hard drives were detected and identified and the mouse and keyboard worked properly. Letting it run for a while, I noted that the temperature of the CPU remained stable. Finally, I booted into the operating system to go online and run some benchmark and stress tests for good measure. Once everything was in order, I scheduled time to return the computer to the customer.

pc pro computer build black
Call me to solve your computer problems today - Don't wait until something fails!

Time Spent: 3 hours
Money Saved: At least $400 for a GPU replacement, potentially more.

 

GALLERY

Net Neutrality: What it is and Why it Matters

Net Neutrality: What it is and Why it Matters

#NetNeutrality is a slogan that has been gaining traction lately, but it’s not new by any definition. On the surface, Net Neutrality carries a basic premise: All data should be treated equally. That’s all well and good, but data is not alive, per se, so why should it be afforded the same protections as a person? Well, that’s because data is so intrinsically linked to our daily lives that Internet access is now considered a basic human right alongside running water and electricity. As it turns out, manipulating or favoring some data over others creates a whole host of problems for you, the consumer.

What Does it Mean, Really?

Net Neutrality addresses certain behaviors that major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) engage in to give themselves a competitive advantage. A neutral Internet means that you are free to choose between Netflix, Hulu, or Comcast’s latest streaming offerings without being penalized for your choice; that is, it prevents Comcast from unlawfully eliminating competition by slowing down their Internet speeds, charging them more for the same service, or entering into exclusive deals.

Imagine that all of your local roads were owned by one single company. Now, imagine that you had to pay a monthly fee to use those roads. Keep in mind, there are no other roads you can use, and you must drive your car on those roads to get anywhere - the fee is unavoidable. This is your broadband Internet plan, and the companies that “own the roads” are Comcast and CenturyLink, at least in the Colorado Springs area.

Now, if you want to use these privately-owned roads to get fast food, you would assume that you could get to McDonalds or Burger King just as easily as any other fast food restaurant; however, McDonalds has entered into an exclusive agreement with the company that owns the roads, paying them thousands of dollars per month, allowing people driving to McDonalds the use of an extra ‘fast lane,’ with a much higher speed limit, that is not available for Burger King customers. This results in McDonalds gaining much more popularity while Burger King sees less and less customers as it becomes increasingly difficult to simply drive to the restaurant. See where we’re going with this?

Net Neutrality keeps ISPs and other corporations honest. In a country where profit is king, it can be difficult for small businesses to carve a niche where nationwide corporations are firmly entrenched. It would be impossibly difficult for an Internet-based business to do the same if Net Neutrality is repealed: they would simply be demolished in favor of higher-paying clients.

net neutrality advertisement
Prepare for monthly charges

Why is Broadband Different than Other Utilities?

If Net Neutrality is such a big deal, why haven’t we run into similar issues with our electric company, our gas company, or our water company? Well, it’s because all of those are considered public utilities. Sure, you may only have one choice of electric or gas companies, but their prices, services and availability are all strictly managed by various government entities.

Broadband Internet providers do not suffer from the same restrictions. Although they use the telephone poles and cables that are often installed with taxpayer money, they claim exclusive use of them and have shown, time and time again, that they are willing to leverage that exclusivity to reach into your wallet while locking out their competition. Most attempts to regulate ISPs as a public utility (Also known as Title II) have failed miserably due to the stranglehold the cable lobby has over legislators on Capitol Hill.

This also means that competition is greatly stifled. Google Fiber, for example, is capable of providing fiber Internet (much, much faster than most residential plans in Colorado) for less money than you pay for your current plan. Unfortunately, Google has all but abandoned their plans for nationwide fiber due to the extremely restrictive legislation that allows ISPs to keep everyone else out of their ‘territory’. At its core, this is government-approved monopoly, and we are the ones paying the bill.

Elijah's e-mail to his legislators
Elijah's e-mail to his legislators

What Can be Done?

While the ISP monopoly seems airtight, it is ultimately up to each and every citizen to let their legislators know how they feel about Net Neutrality. Time and time again, the ‘lowly’ citizens of the Internet have stood up to the major ISPs, halting damaging legislation in it’s tracks. Just look at the protests over SOPA / PIPA and previous Net Neutrality battles.

Even if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repeals Net Neutrality, we can push for state legislation to protect our local economy, our small businesses, our jobs and ultimately our freedom of choice.

July 12th is National Day of Action for Net Neutrality. Take the opportunity to post your thoughts to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media platform using the #NetNeutrality and #NetNeutralityDayOfAction hashtags. Tag your representatives and senators on these posts. Tag Ajit Pai, the Chairman of the FCC, who previously worked as a lawyer for Verizon fighting against people like you and me. Tag your friends and family and let them know these issues matter to you. The future of the Internet is in your hands now, more than ever, and the steps we take next will determine the future of a free and open Internet.

Basic Training: Use Your Credit Card Safely Online

Basic Training: Use Your Credit Card Safely Online

'Hackers' and 'cyber' have been all over the news in recent years. After the OPM hack in 2015 that compromised the personal data of over 20 million federal employees, it is understandable to be apprehensive about posting your credit card or financial information online. On the other hand, the convenience of retail services such as Amazon or online bill paying leave many of us to choose between security and utility. Luckily, it's possible to nearly eliminate the risk of using your credit cards online by following some easy-to-remember tips from your local in-home computer specialists.

Verify the Security of the Site

The very first step to ensure safe online credit card use is to only purchase or give your business to trusted websites. That means only websites that you navigated to or searched for, rather than links from e-mails or popups, should receive your financial information. A quick way to verify that you are using a trusted site is to look for the SSL verification in your browser. In Firefox, this appears as a small green 'padlock' image to the left of the website address bar. In Chrome, you will have a more detailed padlock image and the letters 'https' may or may not be highlighted in green. Similar imagery is used in other browsers. SSL is a security protocol that verifies the identity of sites through a chain of authorities and verified sites all share the letters 'https' before their URL.

An illustration of online security icons

Use Your Credit Card, Not Your Debit Card

Debit cards serve a purpose, but purchasing items from the Internet is not part of it. Whenever you need to purchase an item or pay a bill, including recurring bills, consider using credit cards only. While this may not be an option for everyone, it limits the overall liability to you in case of fraud and provides much better consumer support. In most cases, fraudulent charges to your credit card can be reversed immediately with a much lower liability (less than $100) than with debit cards.

Only Order From Your Home or Trusted Network

A lot of the risk involved with using your credit card online comes not from the sites you are giving your information to, but from the computer you are using or the network you are communicating over. The safest website in the world would not prevent a virus-riddled computer from stealing your information as you type it into your keyboard, and compromised networks can effectively funnel all of your data through a hostile intermediary. With that in mind, keep your computer clean and only use your credit card on trusted, secured networks.

Wireless network security icons
Avoid 'unsecured' networks

Still Concerned?

If you're still concerned about a site using your financial information maliciously, there are several other options to keep your Amazon Prime deliveries coming. First, you can trust your information to only one site who manages payments to the others. For example, Paypal.com allows users to connect directly to their bank account using their account and routing number (just the information on a check). This creates a trusted relationship between Paypal and your bank, allowing you to fund an online wallet on-demand that is accepted at most online retailers. Even if they don't accept Paypal, Paypal can provide you with a one-time 'credit card number' that you can use to pay from your paypal balance or bank account.

If you want to avoid putting your information online entirely, you could also purchase prepaid credit cards from many retail chains that are accepted online. When in doubt, give us a call to get an expert opinion before you risk your credit card information.