Category Archives: Web Security

Windows 10 and Privacy Part 1: General Privacy Options

Let’s get one thing straight: operating systems like Windows have always had to walk a line with privacy: balancing on one side user safety and discretion, while, on the other, features that observe and learn from user behavior.  That being said, Windows 10 incorporates new features for tracking behavior that  a lot of people think are going a bit too far.  They’re not hidden though; in fact, they’re right there in  the install screen.

Windows 10 Customize Settings

So what is this tracking? It’s all about getting to know you. Windows 10 was designed to be a product of a multi-platform environment.  It’s on as many tablets, laptops and phones as it is on desktops.  This means being mobile-friendly, so it incorporates location services that can tell where you are.

It’s also about making things more convenient.  By logging the kinds of things you write, the sites you visit, and the voice commands you prompt to Cortana, the OS can better predict what you’ll want int he future, making searches faster and more accurate.

The truth is, all of this is stuff that some people really want.  At the same time, there’s another faction: those who are so cautious they won’t even open a browser without a pop-up and tracking blocker turned on. To these folks, the new predictive features in Windows 10 are nothing but bad news.

Most of us are somewhere in between the glass house and the tinfoil hat. Fortunately, whichever category you fit into, there are easy ways to monitor, manage and set your privacy preferences in Windows 10.

Getting to the Privacy Settings Window

Follow these steps to set your privacy preferences:

1. If you have a touchscreen, swipe left to bring up the Action Center. Tap All Settings.

2. For a desktop computer or laptop with a standard screen, click the Start button, then select Settings.

3. Tap or click Privacy.

4. You should see the General tab, which displays this list of invasive tracking options, all of which are set to “On” by default. To change the setting, tap or click the ones you want to change and slide the selector button to the left to turn them “Off.”

Windows 10 Privacy OptionsHere’s a breakdown of what each category is and does.

Your advertising ID

… is a tracking number lets advertisers target you inside Microsoft apps.  A refresher: targeted advertising is just advertising aimed at a specific audience, namely, you. So sharing the advertising ID sets up ads for products that advertisers think you will be likely to buy.

When you slide this to Off, the data associated with this number is not shared with advertisers.  It doesn’t mean ads won’t appear on Microsoft apps, they just won’t be targeted to you based on your behavior.

SmartScreen Filters

This item is designed to keep Windows Store apps from sending you to unsavory websites that might contain malware. We recommend leaving this setting on.

Typing and writing

This setting lets Windows actually track the way that you write and type, supposedly to improve handwriting recognition (writing) and autocomplete (typing). It collects information about your personal writing style and chops up the data so that it can’t be put back together and used to predict the sorts of things you’ll want to say.

If you find the idea of Microsoft tracking the way you input text a little creepy, slide this button to off.  If, on the other hand, an autocorrect that more quickly learns what you want to say appeals to you, leave it on.

Locally relevant content

This one applies only if you are using a language other than English. It makes your browser (namely Microsoft Edge) display localized custom search results.

If your first language isn’t English and you want the browser to find sites that better match your language preferences, leave this on.  Of course, depending on your other settings, it will also make advertising language-appropriate too.

Show me tips about Windows

Why not? Leave on to get tips about Windows delivered to your desktop.  Too annoying? Toggle it off.

Manage My Microsoft advertising and other personalization info

Located just above the Privacy Statement is a link to a Microsoft web page.  That page lets you turn on/off advertising that’s personalized according to your browsing and search histories

There’s also an option that’s lets you have it half-way.  You can turn off personalized (targeted) ads in the browser as a whole, but still allow them on those sites that recognize your Microsoft account.  These include Outlook.com, OneDrive and Microsoft Office Online; and it also includes MS affiliated sites too.

Believe it or not, some people like personalized ads – that is – they know ads are inevitable and figure you might as well see stuff that interests them.  You can always ignore them . . . right?

Turn off/on to manage whether your browsing history is shared with advertisers.

Manage Privacy with an Automated Tool

Privacy is a key component of managing a computer.  That’s why utilities like SlimCleaner Plus have incorporated push-button controls for managing privacy settings.  Open the program and look for the icon labeled “Privacy.”

SlimCleaner Plus Privacy 2When the Privacy Manager opens, you can not only control how Windows gathers data, but also manage features related to how  computer behavior is monitored and reported.  Just add or remove checks to the boxes beside each privacy control.

 

How to Protect yourself from Ransomware: 5 steps

It’s astonishing how far hackers will go to make a few dishonest bucks. One shady scheme that has recently become more prominent is malware that is called Ransomware.

So what Is Ransomware and How Does It Work?

As the name implies, ransomware is a virus or worm that locks you out of your computer or files until you pay money to some shady hacker for the code that will supposedly unlock it. Ransomware usually works in one of these ways. You get infected and …

•    It encrypts the files on your computer’s hard drive.
•    It locks your computer and requires that you enter a password to unlock it.
•    It prevents you from using your web browser.
•    It accuses you of doing some illegal activity and tells you that you need to pay a fine.

The model for a ransomware alert
The model for a ransomware alert

Pretty nasty, right? For a lot of people, they’d almost rather have a bug that damages their computer than threatens their data.  That’s because, in many ways, the landscape of user computing has changed.  Computers, while not cheap by any measure, are far less expensive than they used to be.  What matters to people then is the time and effort spend in making stuff: documents, projects, photos, video. As infuriating as it is, ransomware represents and evolution in an old scam. Leave the hardware out of it, it’s kidnapping for your data.

So, how does ransomware spread? Sadly, the means by which these viruses get around is the same as it’s always been, so it’s more important than every to start practicing better behaviors. Usually computers become infected when you do one of the following:

•    Open an unsolicited email attachment, even if you think you know the sender.
•    Click on a suspicious link in an email.
•    Downloading something from peer-to-peer networks. Continue reading

The Windows RDP: What is it and why should I care?

Many of us use our home computers for a few simple tasks. We email. We do a bit of internet surfing. We play with our digital pictures, file taxes or write reports. But your home computer is capable of much more than Facebook and Word. There are dozens of features on your computer that you may be completely unaware of that can change the way you use your computer.

What if, for example, you could use your home computer to remotely access your work computer or vice versa?  Among all of the apps, languages, and camera settings within the catalog of Windows Utilities, you’ll find RDP, or remote desktop protocol.

You probably don’t even know it’s there

RDP is simply the ability to access one computer from another. If you are sick and need to work from home one day, you might use RDP to login to your work computer to grab the files and programs you need to make your day productive from the home office.

ICON_linked_computersOf course something like RDP comes with plenty of requirements and cautionary notes, but at the heart of the utility is simplicity and connectivity. A client computer, like your home computer, can log into a remote host computer, like your work one, with relative ease allowing you to commute easily or allowing you to collaborate with others in a myriad of ways. Continue reading

Zero-Day Malware: Six Steps to Avoid and Evade

It sounds like something out of a science fiction movie and perhaps it could be, in a sense.  In all those movies where the self-proclaimed “hackers” pound the keyboards with super-fast clicks, it seems so easy to get access to a bank account, or a security system, or – ya know – a top secret government facility.

In real life, hacking isn’t done so easily or quickly, but as more an more hacking attacks break the news, the vulnerabilities found in the security framework of companies like Target®, JP Morgan® and Anthem® are becoming all too prominent.  Of course, your home computer isn’t a big company. That doesn’t mean it isn’t vulnerable to attacks.

Zero-day malware is a way to describe tools that help hackers exploit vulnerabilities. The reason and old idea gets a new name is because of the rate at which these attacks can be formulated and carried out.

What is it?

zero-day_iconThe term zero-day malware has been applied to different things all in the same category of threat. It is perhaps best to think of zero-day malware as more of a family name than a single label. The top items inside the “zero-day malware family” include:

• An attack using a vulnerability in software that was there from the beginning. A sneak attack using a crack in a digital foundation, if you will.

• A virus that is deployed through a sneak attack. This includes just about any type of malware under the sun.

What makes the zero-day malware unique in regards to all of the other malware we hear so much about is how it is sent to unsuspecting users. Continue reading

A Crash Course in Facebook Sharing

It seems like every nine months or so Facebook revises its privacy settings. Usually these routine changes aren’t severe, and often they just apply the way things are set up by default. But that doesn’t mean that it can still get confusing.

So here’s the crash course. These are top 4 relational types of communication you can do on Facebook. Sure there are plenty of fine-grained settings you can make on the privacy page; and – sure – you should make those.  But if you’re just trying to get a quick post up or make that critical status update, remember these …

ONE-to-ONE

The only truly exclusive communication on Facebook is personal messages.  Those are monitored, measured and composed using the little conversation-bubble icon in the nav bar.

Personal messages appear like a chat window, and they’re really a combination of email and chat.  If you have a friend (or friends) whom you’re talking to on message, it can happen in real time, like instant messages do.  What’s more, Facebook capitalizes on this and includes photo-sharing and emojis.

FB_message

Continue reading