Category: Uncategorized

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.

5 Useful Tips to Avoid Malware and Computer Viruses

5 Useful Tips to Avoid Malware and Computer Viruses

If you're like many of our customers, you are confronted regularly by attempts to infect your computer with viruses or other malware. While viruses may pose a higher risk to your data and privacy, it is other types of malware, like advertising and marketing software, that really drain your resources and can slow your computer down. To avoid falling into every trap you encounter online (and there are a lot!), start by following these simple tips:

1) Pay Attention to what You Download

It seems that Adobe needs to update all of your software once a week. That's weird, given that you've been using the exact same program for 10 years and no other piece of software updates this often, right? Well, bundled into Adobe's installer is a 'hidden' checkbox consenting to download two additional programs that you probably didn't want in the first place. The result? Now, you get two more icons in your toolbar, two more programs that force feed you popups or ask you to pay for premium features and, most importantly, two more programs draining your valuable computer resources from the moment you log on.

Adobe download screen
Pay attention and uncheck those boxes!

This is also true for many popular downloading sites. Many times, an advertisement near the top of the page will show a large, green "download now" button. This button will download a software program you weren't looking for that will gather your data and bombard you with advertisements. Generally, the real download button is much smaller and farther down the page. Make sure you're reading through your download pages carefully and, when in doubt, hover over a download button or link to view the target page in the bottom corner of your browser - this can tell you if you're being redirected somewhere undesirable.

2) Don't Fall for Fake Virus Alerts

Almost every virus repair I've completed had one or more of these programs on their PC. You can recognize them by their generic name, pushy behavior and resemblance to popular programs. These advertisements first appear on unscrupulous websites as a popup notifying the visitor that a virus has been found on their PC. Typically, clicking any "button" on the popup window will simply link you to a page where you will voluntarily download malware in an attempt to fix the "virus" you were so kindly warned about.

If you already have malware on your computer, these bait windows will appear as desktop notifications or seem to come from a normal program. Clicking the link will do the same thing: allow the malware to download more malware to your computer. With 3 or more of these programs running, it can be hard to get anything accomplished.

Fake virus scan alert
It's a scam! Don't click either button

To avoid this type of scam, don't click anywhere on a suspicious window if you didn't install the program that is warning you. It is mostly safe to click the 'x' in the corner to close an ad, but it is much safer simply to navigate to another website and conduct your business elsewhere. Many of these malware programs appear to be helping you and have friendly names such as "PC Accelerate," but don't be fooled. If you didn't put it there, it is there to profit off of you.

3) Protect Yourself with Antivirus

Yeah, yeah. We've all heard about this 'antivirus' thing and quite frankly, we're sick of it. So, I'll keep it simple. You don't need to pay for antivirus anymore and there are quite a few free options that will protect you better than Norton can.

We recommend a simple software suite to combat viruses, malware, adware and all other types of unwanted solicitation. First, BitDefender (free edition) will scan, fix and protect your computer from every virus and piece of malware that the commercial programs can. Download it. Next, download Malwarebytes Antimalware to keep all of those pesky advertising popups away and even block many of them from appearing in the first place.

If you're feeling especially paranoid and want to bring out the big guns, download an addon for your internet browser to block advertisements and personal information requests. I suggest AdBlock Plus or Disconnect.

4) Keep Windows and Defender Up-to-date

It is easy to ignore the requests to restart your computer to apply updates. We get it, it can be inconvenient at times. If it works better for you, set a day once a week where you restart your computer and update any software that has been nagging you. It is absolutely critical that your computer and software stay up-to-date to avoid infection, since many malware creators count on the fact that old vulnerabilities will remain unfixed on procrastinators' computers.

Windows Defender screen

You can always access Windows Update and Defender from the system tray at the lower-right corner of your screen. Keep in mind that many antivirus programs won't work well with Windows Defender, so following our earlier recommendation of using BitDefender and Malwarebytes Antimalware together with Windows Defender will provide full-spectrum defense against all forms of malware.

5) Don't Use Internet Explorer

With the advent of Windows 10, many former Internet Explorer users have fortunately migrated to the new Edge browser. If you're using another operating system and still have Internet Explorer set as your default browser, you should change it right away.

Now, I'm not saying that IE is inherently vulnerable, but it has been a consistent target for malware and seems to be working. Switching to another popular browser such as Chrome, Opera, Edge or, my favorite, Firefox, can help you stay protected.

frequently asked questions
Tech Trends 4/21: iPhone 8, SNES Classic, Mastercard, Microsoft Updates and Tesla Recalls

Tech Trends 4/21: iPhone 8, SNES Classic, Mastercard, Microsoft Updates and Tesla Recalls

SNES_Classic

SNES Console In The Works After Nintendo Canceled The NES Classic

Original article by TechFrag

Following the announcement that Nintendo will discontinue the popular NES Classic retro gaming console, a new rumor has surfaced detailing plans for the development of the SNES Classic. Nintendo has claimed that they want to focus development on their latest generation console, the Switch, but gamers may have a new device to look forward to this Holiday season if this rumor turns out to hold any water. Keep your eye out for preorders if you think you might be interested: this console is sure to sell out as soon as preorders are announced.

Mastercard_fingerprint

Mastercard Tests New Bank Card With Fingerprint Scanner

Original article by TechFrag

Mastercard is rolling out a new concept in South Africa to improve payment card security. As Near-Field Communications (NFC) begin to dominate the European and Asian markets, it is clear that additional security precautions are necessary to scale the technology for every-day use. Currently, NFC payment is only an option for small transactions due to the risk of fraud. Adding a biometric fingerprint scanner to payment cards promises to resolve many of the security issues surrounding the industry.

iphone_7

iPhone 8 rumors: Apple might move Touch ID to the back of the device

Original article by IT World

Following reports that Apple may be having difficulties implementing the Touch ID sensor directly into the front display for the upcoming iPhone 8, rumors are surfacing that a new prototype has the sensor located on the back of the unit. When faced with the option of delaying development or simply changing the original plan, it is unclear what Apple will ultimately decide. Many in the industry expect this to be a pivotal moment for Apple after a significant drought of new technology.

Windows_updates

Microsoft commits to twice yearly updates to Windows 10, Office 365

Original article by Network World

To the delight of IT workers around the World, Microsoft announced that Windows 10 and Office 365 will receive predictable semiannual updates. Scheduling 2 major patches per year will allow system administrators to more thoroughly plan enterprise deployment of new updates as well as limit unexpected downtime. Is this part of Microsoft's overall strategy to keep Windows 10 relevant for longer than previous iterations of the popular operating system.

Tesla

Tesla recalls 53,000 vehicles built in 2016 over faulty parking brake

Original article by Ars Technica

Tesla has voluntarily recalled over 50,000 Model S and X electric vehicles due to issues with a faulty parking brake allegedly related to a defect in a small gear manufactured by a third party. This issue is not dangerous, however, and would only cause the vehicle to be stuck in 'park' should the gear fail. This recall follows shortly after nearly 100,000 Model X vehicles were affected by a seatbelt recall. It seems unlikely that Tesla and Elon Musk would let these recalls put a dent in business operations, but it could be a significant setback to electric and autonomous vehicles should more problems come up.

Tech Trends 4/14: NES Classic, Macbook Storage Solution, 5G Evolution, Tesla Semi Trucks, IoT Surge, 3D Printing

Tech Trends 4/14: NES Classic, Macbook Storage Solution, 5G Evolution, Tesla Semi Trucks, IoT Surge, 3D Printing

Nintendo NES Classic

"Nintendo hates money, discontinues the NES Classic"

Original article posted on Ars Technica

Even as Nintendo struggles against supply issues with the Nintendo Switch, a controversial decision will remove the popular $60 NES Classic device from store shelves. Citing their original vision for the device, Nintendo claims they did not intend to offer the device long-term and that they have already added extra shipments to their original distribution. Could there be more behind their reasoning? We suspect the scalping market won't be going away any time soon, but Nintendo could really capitalize on releasing newer versions with different games in the future.

Western Digital G-Drive USB-C

"Western Digital USB-C G-Drive adds 10TB of storage to MacBooks"

Original article posted on TechFrag

The newest MacBook and MacBook Pro devices have left a lot to be desired. The controversial decision to drop an SD port while removing support for USB-A has left many users with a lack of desirable storage expansion options. In response to consumer outcry, Western Digital has created the G-Drive. This drive comes in either 4TB or 10TB versions and also houses a portable battery to charge your MacBook. At $199 for the 4TB version and $499 for the 10TB version, this may not be the solution for you, but Mac users that need an extraordinary amount of storage should pay attention.

Cellular Antennae

"Giant FCC spectrum auction raises $19.8 billion, sets up 5G services"

Original article posted on NetworkWorld

Many people don't know that the frequencies our wireless devices operate on are managed by the FCC. A recent auction has raised billions of dollars to open a new frequency band, namely around the 600MHz range, to the highest bidder. It seems that T-Mobile is a clear winner in this auction, but the implications are good for cellular communications as a whole. With a low-band frequency allocation that provides much better range and penetration, 5G is primed and ready to make its debut.

Tesla Semi Preview

"Tesla's electric semi will be revealed in September, CEO says"

Original article posted on Ars Technica

Elon Musk, the man behind SpaceX, Tesla Motors, PayPal and other ideas such as the Hyperloop, announced that Tesla's electric Semi is on track to be unveiled in September. Although his ideas often seem lofty or beyond the means of current technology, he consistently proves the industry wrong. Take, for example, SpaceX's recent success in landing and relaunching the world's first reusable rocket, possibly reducing the cost of space travel significantly. In the same vein, we can likely expect this announcement to carry economic implications - America relies heavily on truck transportation, and a viable electric alternative could greatly reduce carbon emissions and fuel costs.

Internet of Things

"IoT device sales set to surge in next decade"

Original article posted on Computerworld

If you follow our Power User blog, you know that we are smart home aficionados. A recent article from ComputerWorld predicts that "Internet of Things" (IoT) device sales will surge in the next decade, bolstered by the advance of control systems, such as sensors, in the industrial sector. As these costs are brought down by improved manufacturing processes, corporations such as Nest, Philips and GE are taking advantage of early interest to carve out a new niche in the home electronics market. Early adopters should still continue to do their own thing, but if you've been on the fence about upgrading your smart home you should wait until the prices drop over the next few years.

Boeing 787AA

"Boeing turns to 3D-printed parts to save millions on its 787 Dreamliner"

Original articles posted on ComputerWorld

Although still a relatively nascent industry, 3D printing received a significant show of support from Boeing recently. As the company announced they intend to save millions of dollars on the manufacture of its 787 Dreamliner by using 3D printing, they may have inadvertently jumpstarted the movement toward modular or even on-site manufacturing. Hopefully, this development will lead to a technological leap in the 3D printing industry, which is currently disjointed and lacking a singular focus.

$30 off Nest Learning Thermostat for Earth Day

$30 off Nest Learning Thermostat for Earth Day

Click here to view full offer.

If you’re interested in passively lowering your energy bill, this offer may be for you. The Nest Learning Thermostat gradually learns your preferences each season and works to reduce energy consumption using a number of unique methods, including tracking your phone to see when you’re away. If you purchase alongside Google Home, you can save $50.

Spring Cleaning for your PC or Laptop

Spring Cleaning for your PC or Laptop

Many of us in Colorado are enjoying unseasonably warm weather as we move into Spring. While you are out unexpectedly replacing mulch, watering the lawn or dodging wasps, don't forget about the laptop or PC that got you through the Winter. Without giving away too many of our secrets, PC Pro will introduce you to many of our tips, tricks and favorite 'click-it-and-forget-it' solutions for a fast-running, well-protected computer.

Laying the Foundation: Actual, Physical Cleaning

This doesn't have to be as hard as it sounds! Laptops and PCs both suffer from performance issues if not properly cleaned and maintained- dust and other particles get trapped in vents and fans and prevent proper heat dissipation, throttling your performance as the PC slows down to prevent internal damage and keep the temperature under control.

For the blue bloods out there, a simple can of canned air (around $5) will be enough to clear out all but the most stubborn particles. Keeping the can upright, spray into the vents on the front, back, sides, top or bottom of your laptop or PC until no more dust is seen coming out. A simple rag will clean up the rest.

If you don't have canned air or simple don't want to use it, you can use a (barely) moist rag, some cotton swabs and your own breath to get the job done. If you're using this method, make sure to power down and completely unplug your device before attempting to clean it. Take care to avoid touching any electronic components with the moist rag- only clean around vents and fans to clear up the worst of the problem.

Setting the Stage: Advanced SystemCare

Many devices we work on are so slow or virus-ridden that we must take steps to make them more functional before we can even attempt to solve the underlying issue. Advanced SystemCare by IOBit is our go-to program in this situation. ASC is not a slim or lightweight program by any means, but contains some powerful tools for getting you back on track.

Most casual users will be most comfortable using the "autoclean" function in ASC, which runs through several tools including a registry scan, junk file cleanup, privacy scan and others. Once scanning is complete, a simple check box allows the program to auto-clean all of the suspect items. ASC can also be set up to run periodically, removing the user from the situation entirely and keeping your PC clean without any effort at all.

While ASC is a powerful tool, it is not meant to do everything. If you need to uninstall junk programs, find and remove adware, viruses or spyware or defragment your hard drive, you will need to do so with another program. The good news, on the other hand, is that IOBit will constantly remind you that they offer solutions to these problems. I personally keep only ASC and IOBit Uninstaller on my laptop, but programs such as Smart Defrag and Driver Booster are representative of the full spectrum of support IObit can offer.

One final note: ASC offers both free and paid versions, much like all other IOBit programs. All any casual user needs is the free version! The pestering to buy the product is well worth the utility offered in return. They also offer utilities for Mac devices.

Getting to the Root of the Problem

Once your device is moving smoothly enough to let you navigate through menus and programs freely, it is time to begin hunting down the root causes of the slowdown. While there are some truly creative viruses with equally abstract methods for removing them, almost all users will be able to eliminate their problems using a combination of two programs: Malwarebytes Antimalware (MBAM) and BitDefender, both free.

While these two programs offer a lot of the same capabilities, I have found that I personally benefit from running both of them on a suspect computer. Both scans can take quite a while, so set them up and go take care of something else for 1-2 hours while deep scans are performed.  Both of these programs will find viruses, malware, spyware, adware and other unwanted software, quarantine them and provide continuous, uninterrupted protection.

Once the scan and quarantine/removal is complete, at least one of the programs should be allowed to run periodic scans. Personally, I choose BitDefender as my antimalware solution- it runs silently in the background, never bugs me to upgrade or pay them, and generally just stays out of my way. You can feel free to uninstall the option you didn't pick or leave it on your device for on-demand scanning when necessary.

Finishing Up and Protecting Your Device

The suite of software containing ASC, MBAM and Bitdefender has never failed to solve or help solve a computer issue, at least for me. In order to prevent any additional problems, it is highly recommended that, if you use the Windows Operating System, you enable Windows Defender, Firewall and Update. These built-in Windows features will keep your network connection secure, can scan individual downloads and files for malware, and keep you up-to-date with the latest security definitions for your device.

Since Windows Defender can interfere with or against commercial antivirus software, I highly recommend you DO NOT purchase an antivirus solution (Norton, Kapersky, etc.). The free offerings from Windows and the vendors described above are, in my opinion, far better at fixing and preventing these issues, are free, and are for the most part less invasive. Running antivirus software simultaneously with Defender can cause internet outages as the programs compete to block each other, both thinking the other is a virus. Windows Defender, ASC and Bitdefender all work well together, which is why I recommend installing them rather than commercial software.

Still Having Problems?

If you have attempted to fix your PC but cannot quite seem to complete the job, we are here to help. Our team of professionals shares decades of experience and loves helping the members of our community. Obligation-free estimates and home visits are available by calling (888)557-2776, e-mailing us at ColoradoPCPro@Gmail.com, or filling out our support request form found here. Good luck!

Protecting Your Home and Data from Digital Snooping

Protecting Your Home and Data from Digital Snooping

Earlier this month, Wikileaks released over 8,000 documents detailing United States CIA hacking methods and policy. While these documents are still being analyzed by the technology community, it is clear that the documents detail some disturbing trends in home electronic surveillance. Even President Trump's own advisor believes that common household devices can be used to spy on you. Understandably, concerned citizens across the nation are wondering if they should be worried. It may be too early to hedge your bets against the CIA's best assurances that their tools aren't used domestically, but due diligence and some simple preventive actions can minimize your risk.

Cover My Webcam With Tape?

We've all seen the trope that 'Mark Zuckerberg' keeps a piece of tape over his webcam to prevent unauthorized access by hackers. This isn't because he thinks his network is prone to hacking--he simply knows that the ONLY way to prevent unauthorized viewing from his webcam is to essentially eliminate it. Hacks have become so pervasive that it is nearly a guarantee you have a piece of malicious code hiding somewhere in your house. Many of these viruses, trojans and other malware are now obsolete, no longer supported or simply forgotten.

Viruses in the Home

The security issue currently faced by the smart home industry is the result of its youth: budding technology without a clear security standard is very prone to exploitation. For example, consider this article from Fusion detailing how 8 of 9 internet-connected baby monitors were found to be 'trivially' hacked.

This is a result of baby product manufacturers diving into a market they are unfamiliar with. Although many devices are shipping 'internet-ready' by default, you don't necessarily want a crib maker in charge of your digital security. In one situation, a hacker successfully spoke to a strangers baby through a compromised baby monitor. These monitors connected to the Internet through an IP address rather than a web site (think 256.214.155.155), making it nearly impossible to accidentally find someones camera feed but very possible to deliberately target specific manufacturers and devices.

What Else is at Risk?

OK, compromised baby monitors are horrifying, but you don't have one in your house. What other devices are at risk? Essentially, any appliance or device that connects to the Internet or your home network via Bluetooth, WiFi or a network cable can be hacked. This could include smart fridges, microwaves or toasters, but more likely includes your smart TV, your Amazon Echo or Google Home, or your thermostat.

If any one device in your home is compromised, the network as a whole is at risk. These devices are all capable of communicating to your router or switch to receive instructions, so a hacker may have the ability to control your laptop, desktop or cell phone once the door has been opened into your network.

What Can I Do?

A good first start is to evaluate all the internet connected devices in your home. No, really. This is when you should walk through your home and find those small devices you forgot about like iPods, Nintendo handhelds and those tags you bought to find your keys easier. Once you know what you have, start taking the first measures to protect yourself. Cover your laptop webcam with a post-it note, unplug external USB devices such as webcams and microphones when not in use, shut down your devices when not in use, and do not leave devices connected to the network if you don't plan to use network connectivity. If you are concerned about your Echo or Home recording your voice, there is a mute button located on each device; however, you may not enjoy full functionality after doing so.

Next, make sure that each individual account you have for your connected products has a strong, unique password. Using a weak password forfeits the game before it even starts, and using the same password across all devices means that if one device is compromised due to bad firmware you won't have to worry about your entire home being hijacked.

Finally, do your research! As more and more devices come with built-in tablets and internet connectivity, it is important to first conduct your research about what products you put in your home. The best way to start would simply be to Google your product name plus the word 'security' and browse the results. Experts from corporations such as Microsoft and Symantec work tirelessly to protect you from these threats, so take advantage of their expertise!

Smart Home Series: Nest Learning Thermostat

Smart Home Series: Nest Learning Thermostat

Follow Elijah as he upgrades to a smart home! This is part 2 of the series and follows part 1: Linksys WRT 1900ACS WiFi Router. Every week, a new device will be selected, purchased, installed and evaluated for your consideration.

Bottom Line

The Nest Learning Thermostat is a solid addition to any smart home. Integration with Alexa, although immature as a technology, is novel and heading down the right path. The price point, ease of installation and simplicity of use all make this an excellent choice for the choosy consumer. Better yet, the Nest promises to pay for itself over time with smart energy changes.

Unboxing

The Nest comes in an easy-to-open custom packaging. All of the pieces of the thermostat are stacked neatly through the middle of the package. Since the Nest is built to accommodate many types of ventilation systems, sorting through what you need for your installation can be a bit of a hassle.

Perhaps the most disheartening feature of the thermostat is the almost deliberately cautious tone found through all the documentation. I purchased this device fully intending to perform the entire installation myself, but seeing huge warnings on the front and back of everything in the box made me feel less secure in my abilities. Spoiler alert: I still installed it myself anyway, and can recommend you consider it before springing for professional installation.

Installation

After reading through the instructions several times, I began the installation process. While the device appears daunting to hook up, my thermostat system was quite simple to understand after ignoring all of the 'extra' instructions meant for other types of systems.

For the novice, a combination of several color-coded wires, depending on your system, control things such as the fan, heat, air conditioning and humidifier. Each of these wires is attached to the appropriate spot on the thermostat so that instructions can be issued to the ventilation system. Accidentally swapping wires, which could potentially also cause electrical problems, could mean your heat and air conditioning are reversed until corrected.

My system in particular looked something like this: A green wire for the ground, and red, black and white cables that managed the air conditioner, furnace and power. These cables were plugged into receptacles bearing the first letter of their color; for example, the white wire was plugged into 'W' and the green wire was plugged into 'G'. Easy enough!

After yanking the old thermostat off the wall and replacing it with the included (optional) Nest backplate, I slid the back of the thermostat over the wires, slid the bare ends of each wire into the appropriate labelled port, and hoped for the best. I must admit, I was worried that things wouldn't work. After all, I had four wires plugged into a thermostat that looks like it can hold a dozen. Not to mention, my old thermostat had just 'R' for red, but the Nest has several variations like 'Rc' and 'Rh'. Turns out, this wasn't a problem. Upon attaching the face of the thermostat, it was clear what I was missing.

Nest Thermostat Wiring Wizard

The Nest visualized the wires I had plugged in and described what they were each used for. Seeing that I had all major components of my ventilation system covered, I felt a bit relieved. Moving on past this screen, the Nest walked me through testing each function to make sure everything was in order. Total time spent reading instructions and doubting myself: 30 minutes. Total actual install time: 15 minutes.

Performance

After a quick account setup and app download, I was able to connect my Nest to the existing Amazon Alexa infrastructure in the house. Here, I learned that Nest can track your phone to determine when you are out of the house to lower your energy bills. Small things like this keep popping up the more I learn about the Nest, and each one is a nice little surprise that makes me feel even better about my purchase.

Setting the thermostat to a comfortable temperature range is easy. You can change settings from your phone, from the thermostat itself or through an Alexa voice command. While not yet very robust, the Alexa voice commands do their job. My only gripe is the specific syntax required to activate a Nest command. You have to refer to the Nest by it's location in the house. If you ask Alexa "What's the temperature," you will receive the forecast. If you ask "What's the Nest temperature," you will also receive the forecast. The correct phrase is "what's the temperature in [living room]/[hallway]/[family room]?" Although, since that command is not yet supported, you won't get very far. At the moment, you are limited to adjusting temperatures only if controlling your Nest via Alexa.

Nest Scheduling

The best feature of the Nest, on the other hand, doesn't involve Alexa at all. The Nest is a 'Learning Thermostat,' which means that it learns your preferences and habits each season and schedules temperature changes around them. For instance, if both members of your house work from 9 to 5, Nest will notice that both of your phones are always out of the house at that time and use less energy to maintain household temperatures until it anticipates you back. You can set these schedules manually or let the Nest automatically create them over the course of a couple weeks. After the schedule is established, there is an energy saving app in the Nest menu that will detail exactly how much you have saved since your purchase. Stay tuned for my personal updates once my thermostat catches up to my lifestyle!

Future Updates

Nest and Amazon appear to be consistently rolling out additional integration functionality. My personal favorite upcoming voice commands are "It's too hot," and "It's too cold." These phrases are easy to remember, you could program the Nests reaction appropriately, and it shows that Amazon and Nest both care about actually improving the smart home industry by listening to customers. One confusingly missing feature, the ability to tell the current indoor temperature, bears no mention from the manufacturer.

Final Thoughts

Although a $250 initial investment seems a bit steep for a new thermostat, the additional functionality and appeal added to your home will certainly pay for itself several times over. In fact, I suspect that the impression the Nest will leave on prospective home buyers will improve the perceived value of your house as a whole.

This thermostat is a great addition to people already considering upgrading to a smart home. Although the best Nest features work well without Alexa, integration is only getting better as the technology leaves its infancy.

Do You Have a Plan for Your Old Computers and Devices?

Do You Have a Plan for Your Old Computers and Devices?

If nothing else, computers and other devices have given us a convenient and new way to save our cherished memories. Unfortunately, upgrading to a newer system could leave you high and dry to figure out what to do with those memories. Many consumers choose to go through the process of selecting, purchasing, installing and initializing their own computers, meaning there is no clear way to transfer all of your data from your old computer to your new one. What's worse, your new computer may have a smaller hard drive than your old one or you may accumulate enough data to require an additional hard drive to keep it all.

If you're like many of our customers, this is a familiar scene: four or five or laptops and computers, one or two of them so old you can't even fit a movie on the hard drive, sitting in a closet, basement or attic with no chargers to speak of. You haven't thrown them away yet because there are old pictures or files you have been meaning to somehow recover, but you don't know how. The bad news is that you've been missing out on a simple service for all of these years. The good news is that Colorado PC Pro can give you exactly what you need while helping the community in return.

A parking lot full of discarded computers and e-waste
Photo and File Transfer

Colorado PC Pro can help, even if you have no charger or haven't turned the device on in a decade. Our specialized tools can transfer data from all hard drives, ancient and new, to your choice of convenient format.

Our data transfer service, currently on sale for $79, covers up to 5 devices and conveniently transfers all of your data to a location of your choice, such as an external hard drive or another computer. Services are provided in-home for no extra cost, or you can choose to have a technician bring your devices back to our workshop to complete the work within 24 hours. Data transfer times can range from minutes to hours, so technician pickup is typically recommended.

Unfortunately, this still leaves the issue of dealing with disposal of your old devices.

PC Pro Refurbishing, Recycling and Donation

After purchasing our data transfer service, it is important to plan where you will dispose of your old electronics. We offer three ways to dispose of your devices while taking care of the environment and your local community. But first, let's talk about why this is so necessary.

Electronic waste, also known as e-waste, is hazardous to the environment, difficult to recycle, and growing rapidly. The Electronics TakeBack Coalition estimates that 400 million devices find their way into our landfills annually, each bringing with them a collection of carcinogenic materials including lead, cadmium and mercury. In fact, older monitors and televisions can contain several pounds of lead each. EACH!

But enough of that, let's get down to business:

Worst Option: Back in the Closet

While not technically the worst option (disposal in your household trash is the worst option), there are so many great ways your device can be put to use.

Better Option: Recycling

Recycling may seem like the 'green' option by default, but there are several reasons why you should research all of your options before going this route.

First, electronic waste is not particularly well suited to recycling. Much of what makes up your computer is considered hazardous to the environment, and even more of it is unable to be recycled. This means that your e-waste still ends up in the landfill, only after the recycling company strips the precious metals from it and disposes of the hazardous materials.

Next, the burden of recycling these materials is often outsourced to foreign markets. Due to the difficulty of recycling electronics,  they are exported in bulk to third world countries where environmental laws are lax and worker protection and healthcare is nonexistent. Careful research is important when choosing a recycler--remember, we all live on the same planet. Environmental stewardship is everyone's job!

http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/30/world/asia/china-electronic-waste-e-waste/
Best Option: Refurbishing and Donation

Okay, so these devices are no good in your closet, no good in your garbage, and no good for recycling. That doesn't exactly leave a ton of options for the considerate tech user. Luckily, Colorado PC Pro is here to help!

We have many hopes and dreams for our community, but specifically focus our volunteer work on promoting public STEM education and making technology more accessible for disabled, handicapped and elderly Colorodoans.

PC Pro will refurbish your old devices, provide you with a receipt for tax (deduction) purposes, and donate them to local charity. Most devices are donated to Goodwill, but can be donated anywhere at the client's request.

Don't want your device resold? That's fine, PC Pro also repurposes some refurbished computers to help those in direct need. This means that your old laptop could become a text-to-speech accessibility tool for a blind neighbor, help a needy student research and finish their projects, or give a disabled veteran a way to connect with their community.

Disclaimer

Colorado PC Pro takes your personal data very seriously. Any devices given to us for the purposes of refurbishing or recycling will be wiped clean using Department of Defense standards. All clients should be aware of the security concerns surrounding personal data, and are encouraged to conduct individual research or call us at (888) 557-2776 with your questions.