Can Private Browsing Protect You Online?

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1. Get a virtual private network (VPN)
VPNs aren’t just for business and downloaders now, they’ve gone mainstream. Once set up, it creates an encrypted connection from your computer to the VPN providers computer. The other computer could be in another city or another country. When you visit a website, it can only see the VPN computer – not yours. You essentially run around the internet pretending to be another computer, in another location. Since your connection is encrypted, even your ISP can’t see what you’re doing online, making your usage anonymous.

The downsides: Because your internet usage has to route through another computer first, your browsing and download speed could be affected. They can be tricky to set up and not all VPNs offer the same privacy levels (the better ones tend to be more expensive). Some websites may even block visits from people using VPNs, so you may end up switching it on/off as required.

2. Go incognito
Most browsers have a private browsing mode, each called something different. For example, Google Chrome calls it ‘incognito’, Microsoft calls it ‘InPrivate’. Before you take the name at face value, it’s a good idea to talk about how they define ‘private’. Unlike a VPN where you can dance around the internet anonymously, private browsing simply means it won’t show up in your browser history, or what you entered into forms. This feature is free, so you always have the option to use it, and it’s actually more helpful than you might think. Common uses include price shopping to reset sale timers and access local-only pricing and overriding usage limits on certain sites. Some sites use cookies to control your free trials and private browsing can help you get around that. For example, some news sites limit you to 5 free articles a month unless you pay. Private browsing can extend that trial quite easily!

The downsides: It can’t pre-fill saved passwords and it won’t help you type in the website name even if you’ve been there before.

3.  Think about who’s watching
While you might be naturally careful when using a public computer have you thought about who’s watching what you do on your work computer? Some workplaces have employee monitoring software that tracks all sorts of data, including taking screenshots of your desktop. It helps them create rules about computer usage but it may also provide them with evidence you’ve been breaking those rules. Stepping out to the internet cafe can be even more risky, as people can install keyloggers that record every keystroke, including your credit card numbers and logins. You’ll never know your activities are being recorded, even if you use private browsing.

The downsides: None. Awareness of the risks and the possibility of being watched ensures you’re more likely to use the internet safely.

While private browsing can help keep your internet usage under wraps, it’s not a magic bullet to cover all possibilities. Many people believe they’re invisible AND invulnerable while private browsing, a mistake they end up paying for. You’ll still need solid anti-virus and password habits to protect against threat, and to be a smart internet user who avoids suspect websites. Consider the options above as privacy-enhancing measures, not one-stop solutions.

Need help with your online privacy? Give me a call at  (828) 290-8237

How to Securely Dispose of Old Computers

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Getting new computers for your business is exciting, but what happens to the old ones? Depending on the age, some people sell them, others throw them out. That’s the easy part. The problem is the sensitive data on them. There are passwords, account numbers, license keys, customer details, medical information, tax returns, browser history…. the works! Each computer, whether laptop, tablet or desktop, contains a treasure trove of sensitive information that cyber criminals would love to get their hands on.

Unfortunately, hitting delete on your files doesn’t actually make them disappear. These mistakes have cost businesses millions of dollars over the years.

Most businesses are unaware that specialized data cleanup is necessary, others think calling someone to collect the computers will cover all the bases. A 2016 experiment proved just how dangerous the situation can be when they bought 200 used hard drives and found 67% held unwiped, unencrypted sensitive data, including sales projection spreadsheets, CRM records, and product inventories. Frighteningly, they didn’t need any special hacking skills to get this data, it was all right there and helpfully labelled. It’s also not surprising that with simple data recovery tools, people have also been able to access British NHS medical records and missile data, all waiting patiently on a discarded hard drive.

Why hitting delete doesn’t help

Data on a hard drive works like a book with an index page. Every time data is written, it pops a quick entry into the index so when you need it again, it knows where to look. The index is used for files you create as well as system files you can’t even see. Sensible, right? Except if you delete a file it’s more like changing the index to say nothing is on page 10 and you can write something else there when you’re ready. But if you manually flip to page 10, you’ll find the information is still there – the file still exists until it’s been written over – it’s the index reference that got deleted.

Wiping data before disposal

There are software tools you can get to do it yourself, as well as dedicated security firms, but your best option is to choose an IT business you know and trust. With that in mind, a methodical approach is required to ensure not a single drive is left untreated. You don’t want to leave data behind, or even clues that a motivated person could extrapolate any private information from. The approach might include using checklists to maintain security, or dedicated processes to guide each step in decommissioning. Careful records should also be kept, including who signs off on completion of the retirement, and where the computers are sent afterwards. A proper inventory and auditing process may slow the rollout of the new computers slightly, but it’s always better than having your old data come back to haunt you.

I can migrate any needed data, backup the information to your server or external drive, then wipe or destroy the hard drives for you.

Upgrading your business computers should be a happy time for you and your employees, so with a little forward planning, you’ll be able to keep everyone smiling and all your data secure.

Need help with your old hardware? Call me today at (828) 290-8237!

What’s That Weird Noise Coming from Your Computer?

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New computers are whisper quiet, seeming to run on pure magic, but after a while computers can start making some pretty weird noises. Clicks, clunks, and about-to-take-off jet noises are the most common, but when should you worry? Your computer has a number of moving parts and even some stationary parts that can make noises. If you’re listening, your computer might be telling you about its current health and how you can help it run smoother, for longer.

When you hear a clicking noise: This could be normal if it’s more like a soft tick. Mechanical hard drives work a bit like a record player with a needle and platter, so you might simply be hearing it spin up and move the needle around. When it starts sounding like a loud click it’s usually the needle hitting the platter too hard or bouncing around. If your hard drive has started making alarming noises, you should get it looked at as soon as possible. Just like a record player, scratches that ruin your data are possible, and if ignored for long enough, it doesn’t just skip and have trouble reading the drive, the whole thing can become unusable.

A technician can copy the files onto a new drive before it gets to that point, but retrieving data from a destroyed hard drive is rarely achieved without CSI-level expenses. It’s easier and much cheaper to replace the hard drive at the first sign of failure.

When you hear a clunking noise: Unsurprisingly, this one causes certain alarm. Computers aren’t meant to go clunk!  It may be a simple matter of a cable having shifted into the path of a fan and getting clipped during the spin. Remember when you pegged a card between your bicycle spokes? It might sound a little like that, skipping every now and then as it’s pushed away and drops back again. If that’s the case, a technician can quickly secure the cable back where it belongs.

When you hear a jet-engine noise: Most computers and laptops have fans to keep them cool. The fans have to spin to move the air around, and the faster they’re spinning, the more noise they make. We start to worry when the jet-engine noise gets out of hand and it’s not just while you’re playing a resource-intensive game or doing some video editing. Constant jet-engine noise indicates your computer is struggling to cool itself down, perhaps because the fan vents are clogged with dust, your computer is in a poorly ventilated space, or the fan itself is worn. Each fan has ball bearings inside that wear out over time, making extra noise while it does the best it can. I can replace individual fans quickly and give your system a checkup to make sure nothing else has been affected.

When it’s beep city: Your computer’s friendly beep as you switch it on actually has multiple meanings. It’s not just saying hello. The single beep you normally hear indicates that it’s run a self-test and everything is fine. When your computer is very unwell, you might hear more beeps than usual. This is because each beep combination is a code to technicians, letting us know what’s gone wrong.
Certain beep combinations mean the memory is loose or damaged, others that the video adapter has a problem, etc. If your computer has started beeping differently, let me know so I can decode it and repair the problem for you.

Some noises your computer makes will be normal, others a sign of deeper issues. Even if your computer seems to be operating correctly, a sudden onset of weird noises could mean failure is just around the corner. Taking early action ensures problems don’t escalate, costs are kept low, and your files remain where they belong.

Got some weird noises coming from your computer? Give me a call today at (828) 290-8237.