What does iTunes, Yahoo!, Gmail, Outlook, Twitter, Facebook, Bank of America, Chase, Discover, E*Trade, Vanguard, PayPal. eBay, and Etsy have in common with thousands of other secured online services? They all offer their users a secure supplementary method to prevent illicit access to their online accounts, with a level of protection much greater than the traditional password, that method known as “Two Factor Authentication”. While it may increase the time necessary to logon to websites by a few seconds, it also greatly reduces the risk of an unauthorized person gaining access to those websites, even if the users’ passwords have been compromised.
Now that smart devices, including smart phones and tablets, have arguably become the most widely used devices now in use to surf the web, it may be time for those users to consider an alternative browser, rather than the one that came factory installed on their devices. As has typically happened on desktops and laptops regardless of the operating system, the default internet browser is the one that tends to be most widely used, as many users are either unaware or reluctant to try another browser. On my former long running radio show, I was frequently asked about browsers other than those installed by the manufacturer, and my answers were always the same: Yes, you can have more than one browser installed; Yes, you can use more than one browser; No, they will not interfere with each other; and Yes, most browsers will import the bookmarks (favorites), cookies, passwords, and other pertinent information from the original browser.
For the past 14 years I have been promoting the annual National Cyber Security Awareness Month, and encouraged individuals, schools, colleges, governmental agencies, corporations, clubs, and other groups to get involved. Every year since its founding in 2001, this annual event has been recognized by bipartisan presidential proclamations declaring October as National Cyber Security Awareness Month. While many organizations around the country hold a myriad of events during the month of October promoting cyber security, locally the premier event is hosted by the City of Port Arthur and its most capable Information Technology Manager, Ms. Fay Young.
Amazon, the online marketing powerhouse best known for its general merchandise, groceries, digital books, and streaming media has now entered a somewhat new market. While Amazon has had an online app store since 2008, with hundreds of thousands of paid and free Android apps, Amazon recently announced a new Android app and a feature on its website offering a wide selection of normally paid apps for free; according to Amazon, eventually more than ten thousand normally paid apps will be available for totally free download, including free future updates. Not so strangely missing from the competing ubiquitous Google Play Store, this new app with the moniker “Amazon Underground” is available directly from Amazon by connecting to amazon.com/underground from the Android device. This new Amazon app combines features from the traditional Amazon shopping app as well as the existing Amazon App Store, but also provides the user with access to the expanding catalog of otherwise “premium” (paid) apps labeled by Amazon as “Actually Free”.
If you are like me, I carry my cell phone everywhere, carrying on voice conversations, sending and receiving text messages, utilizing countless apps, and surfing the web. Until recently, I gave very little heed to the security of these external communications as our smart devices are supposed to be somewhat secure. GSM carriers, such as AT&T and T-Mobile, utilize encryption to make communications secure; CDMA carriers, such as Sprint and Verizon also claim to have secure networks. Yes, I do have a major security app on my Android phone which scans new apps and text messages for malware, as well as protects from hazardous websites. Google created Android to be secure, with apps running in a somewhat closed memory space, called by some a “sandbox”, which is supposed to prevent purloined apps from talking over the phone. iPhone fanatics, along with many Apple fans in general, believe that their devices are immune to attack, as Apple would not dare to allow any threats to harm their beloved devices.
In recent weeks at least two potentially frightening new exploits have been discovered that could threaten an estimated 95% of the one billion devices running the Android operating system. The good news is that as of this writing, there have been no documented attacks on Android devices that take advantage of these two security vulnerabilities. The bad news is that now that information on these security vulnerabilities has been widely published as well as presented at the recent Black Hat hackers’ and security convention in Las Vegas, it may only be a matter of time until some bad guys start to take advantage of these security vulnerabilities. Google, the progenitor of Android, was promptly made aware of the vulnerabilities as soon as they were uncovered, and has produced patches and fixes for many of the Android devices that have these vulnerabilities. The problems is that with the exception of a few models of Nexus smart phones supported directly by Google, it is up to the phone manufacturers or the cell phone carriers to release the upgrades and patches to close these vulnerabilities. At present, none of the major third party security software publishers provide any protection from these exploits, leaving many of us vulnerable to these exploits.
I have not heard from “Rachael, at Credit Card Services” recently, nor have I recently received the calls that I will receive a free medical call alert system. I am sorry to say that I will no longer be informed that I have won a free cruise nor will I be told that I can save having my mortgage refinanced at super low rates, or that my computer is infected with hundreds of viruses. The reason is that I am using a free service connected to my phones that automatically blocks most robocalls.
You could not watch any local or network show last Tuesday (July 21) without hearing about a new online shopping service that claims it will undercut Amazon, Costco, Sam’s, Walmart, and all other online and local retailers. In beta testing for several months, this new online shopping service “Jet” (jet.com) went live to all on July 21. Claiming to outdo Amazon Prime, by undercutting its prices, and providing reasonably fast delivery, Jet offers some substantial money saving benefits over Amazon Prime, claims to have 4.5 million items available on its website at jet.com (soon to be over 10 million items), has an annual membership fee of $49.99 which is about half of Amazon’s $99 Prime membership fee, and offers very easy rebates (applied to future Jet purchases) from purchases made on over 600 other online and local sellers.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Microsoft’s commitment to officially release Windows 10 on July 29. Microsoft has emphatically stated that Windows 10 will commence its rollout of Windows on July 29, but do not expect to get your copy on that date. Due to the sheer volume of Windows users that have reserved a free download copy of the PC version of Windows 10, along with the release of the tablet and phone versions of Windows 10, it may take quite a while for users to actually be able to receive their copies of Windows 10. For those of you who did reserve a copy of the PC build, Microsoft will notify you when your particular copy (a 3GB download) may be available for download.
Earlier this year, I wrote about some of the potential features that were being considered to be included in the upcoming release of Windows 10. The release version of Windows 10 is now complete, with Microsoft already producing packaged software for the retail channels, while PC manufacturers are already producing machines with Windows 10 factory installed, to go on sale on July 29. Some of the big box stores and online sellers are already taking “presale” orders for Windows 10 software ($119 retail), and computers to be delivered or otherwise made available on the official release date. In the coming few weeks, watch for the inevitable media blitz promoting Windows 10.