All posts by Bob Orr

About Bob Orr

An computer trainer with several years experience especially working with older people

3 things to think about before you’re scammed

It’s easy to say ‘just hang up’ when you get a phone call from a company or a person saying there’s a problem with your computer. It may be that you are having problems and here’s someone who can help, or you’re being given a sales pitch which sounds inviting. Here are three things to think about before you’re scammed.

  1. How did the person get your number?

Your phone has probably been generated randomly by the person calling you. Even if you have caller display, the caller’s number can be ‘spoofed’ and can appear to be from the UK. If the caller really wants to speak to you, they’ll leave a message.

  1. So long as you have up-to-date internet security on your computer, it is very unlikely that anyone can ‘know’ what state your computer is in.

Computers running Windows 10 are much safer than ever before, but additional internet security is always a good idea. Apple users are the safest online users. But never be complacent.

Unless you’ve ignored warnings from your computer to stay away from a website you’ve come across or you’ve ignored warnings about downloading new software from the internet, it is very unlikely you’ll be tracked by a potential scammer. Windows 10 and Apple OS will automatically update its own software and the apps you have installed. If you’re unsure of requests to update, then decline the request.

  1. Unless you give explicit permission, it is virtually impossible for anyone to access your computer.

Computers are designed to be accessed remotely. In other words, someone can look at your computer from down the street or from the other side of the world and see what you’re doing, if you need help. I have worked with customers remotely, but only with their permission. You have to give explicit permission for this to happen, usually by giving them an access code and sometimes a temporary password. If you’ve followed the advice in step 2, the person will have to ask for the code. And hopefully, alarm bells will be ringing if you’ve got to this stage. Don’t be frightened to end the call at any time.

So ‘just hang up’ is good advice and I know lots of people who do just that, usually because they’re annoyed at being interrupted in the first place. Some folk even reply saying something that’s probably not repeatable here. So stick to that and be assured if you’ve followed steps 2 and 3 that only you can see what’s happening on your computer. And if you do need help, give us a bell.

Computer Myths No 2

Charging your laptop constantly will kill the battery. We’ve heard the advise about letting your battery run down before charging it again, but this really only applies to nickel-cadmium batteries, the sort of rechargeable battery we use to save money and the environment, replacing so-called ‘long-life’ batteries. A modern laptops is powered lithium-ion or lithium-polymer battery which actually benefits from being continually charged. And you can shortened its life by continually draining it. What is good for your laptop is good for your mobile phone too.

Please feel free to comment.

Scam, scam, scam, scam and more scams

Scams come in various forms but are different methods used by criminals to get you to part with personal information or your money and are full of pitfalls for the less tech-savvy amongst us.

The latest email scam I’ve come across relies on your familiarity with the sender. We’ve all had messages from HSBC, Lloyds or RBS and wondered why a bank who you don’t have an account with is sending you messages. So they’re easy to delete, whether you know they’re a scam or not. Well they are, so delete, delete, delete.

But now emails purporting to come from BT (how many of us either have a BT landline or use them for broadband) asking you to reply confirming your personal details and in some cases, your email password. Never under any circumstances reply to emails like this and certainly never hand on your personal details. BT would never contact you in this way and would never ask for such information. Replying to an email like this only confirms to the scammer that your email address exists. Your address will then be used to send out the same sort of scam email that you received in the first place to thousands if not millions of other people. What will probably happen, is that your email account will be suspended by your provider – and it’s a bit of a nightmare to get it back. So keep your wits about you when handling your emails.

I’ve written before about those phone calls from ‘Microsoft’ or ‘Windows’ telling you that you have a problem with your computer. These people are becoming very clever – and very persistent. Now there are reports of calls coming from BT telling you that you haven’t paid your bill and you’ll be cut off if you don’t pay it there and then. Don’t start a conversation with the caller, it only encourages them. Just hang up and don’t answer the phone for the next hour.

Most of us have an answering service, so why not make more use of it? If a friend or family member wants to talk to you, they’ll leave a message if it’s important. Otherwise, if it’s a scam phone call they’ll ring off if you don’t answer. Gone are the days when we felt we had to answer a ringing phone – just let it ring and if someone really wants to speak to you, they’ll leave a message.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Computer Myths – No 1

PC Pro magazine recently published an article on myths about computers, and I thought it would be a good idea to pass on some of the ones that concern everyday computer users.

Myth No 1
USB memory stickYou don’t need to disable memory sticks (based on flash memory technology) from Windows computers by first clicking on the Remove Hardware icon in the system tray. So long as what you’ve copied has been completed, you can happily pull it out without any damage to the memory stick or its contents. So be brave, and have a go next time.

The way that copying is done on Apple Macs (and iPads if you’ve the attachment) means you still have to ‘eject’ any device that you’ve copied from, including camera flash cards.

More next time. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Time for some housework

There’s not many of us who like to do housework. It’s the routine that gets me down, and living in the city means that dusts accumulates very quickly after you’ve finished.

CCleaner logo

When it comes to cleaning, computers are like houses. They can’t clean themselves. Computers use all sorts of system files to run on a day to day basis, and sometimes they leave behind remnants of these files which accumulate like crumbs down the side of a sofa. You don’t know they’re there until you lose some change down the side and you find the remains of all those snacks you’ve had. It’s also like driving your car around the city and rarely getting above 40mph. The result is a sluggish engine, until you give it a good blast on the motorway. Well your computer will also start to slow down over time, unless you do some housework on it.

Windows has a useful cleaning tool and you can clean up unwanted internet files in your browser, but there is an application that will do both jobs at the same time, and it does it more thoroughly. The program is called CCleaner. Note the double ‘C’. The first refers to your hard drive (lettered ‘C’) where all the computer’s system files are stored. CCleaner will not touch your emails, pictures and any documents you’ve saved. It’s only interested in the files your computer uses – its system files.

If you’ve never used CCleaner before, I’ve made a short video on how to download and install it (it doesn’t work on Apple Macs or iPads). Click here to view it. The procedure is very straightforward, but you may want to watch it a couple of times before you take the plunge.

For those of you who already have CCleaner installed, this is a timely reminder to do some cleaning. So run it now. CCleaner is being constantly updated, so always agree to updates when you’re asked, and follow the steps in the video. Updating CCleaner is just like installing it.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

More on Java and other updates

You may remember that I mentioned security flaws related to Java in a recent blog (Do you really need Java? – 17 Sept 2012). Well a report from Kaspersky, the security giant, details that Java is now the number one attack target, accounting for more than half of all malware exploit attempts. In other words, hackers are using the flaws in Java the most, to gain access to people’s computers.

Kaspersky doesn’t give any firm figures, but I’m assuming we’re talking significant numbers. According to Java, it is installed on 1.1 billion computers around the world. So rich pickings for hackers. Number two in the attack list is Adobe Reader.

According to W3Tech 0.2% of websites use Java. That’s 2 in every 1000. Confusingly, Java is not the same as Javascript which is used by 92% of websites. Websites that offer you the chance to book seats (say at a theatre or on a train), games sites, some learning sites which use animation all require Java. If you use OpenOffice or LibreOffice, or Adobe Creative Suite, then you’ll need Java.

In my recent posting I suggested that you could keep Java (in case you came a across a site that worked better with it) and change the update frequency, with the thought that Java would take these security flaws seriously and issue updates more regularly until it was fixed. The Kaspersky report is dated late October and implies that Java is not playing its part.

You have to make a decision. If any of the above apply to you, don’t ignore Java updates. But, if you are in the habit of ignoring requests from Java to update itself, then I suggest you uninstall it altogether. Far better ridding yourself of it, than hanging on to a version that is out of date. To uninstall Java:

  1. Go to the Control Panel through the Start menu
  2. Click Add/Remove Programs (in Windows XP) or
  3. Programs and Features in (Windows Vista and 7)
  4. Click the Java entry followed by the Install button the toolbar
  5. Follow the instructions on the screen
  6. Repeat for any reference to Java in the list.

If you then come a cross a webpage that requires Java for the page to work properly, then install it again and if the service that webpage is offering will be useful to you in the future, then make sure you don’t ignore Java update requests.

Adobe Reader, not surprisingly, is the number two target. I travel around and see a lot of different computers in a week, and frequently the session is preceded, or interrupted by a request to update Adobe Reader (and Java, for that matter). Too many people ignore these requests either because they think they have to pay something, don’t know what it means, or don’t have the time.

Think about it. An update request is coming from a program or feature that is already in use on your computer. The program’s engineers have developed a better way to run the program, or more likely have discovered a security flaw which can be exploited by hackers and have issued a patch (to use the jargon) to repair the flaw. The fact that a patch has been issued means that the hacker can then work out where the flaw is and exploit it on any computer that hasn’t applied the patch. So if you ignore update requests you are running software that is vulnerable. No matter how good your anti-virus and anti-malware protection is, your system is potentially open to attack.

Updating Adobe Reader is even easier than updating Java. Just don’t put it off. Adobe Reader is needed in lots of instances when you’re on the internet, so don’t uninstall it. It would be too inconvenient to be without it. Just keep it update.

What we need from companies like Java and Adobe is updates that are handled automatically (as Windows updates are) by default, without us having to intervene. Out of date software is like a free meal to hackers. So why not withdraw the invitation?

This article applies to Windows users, but if you’re using an Android smartphone and have Adobe Reader installed on it, this article applies to you too.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Online Support

Did you know that it’s very easy to set up your computer so you can have an online support meeting with me? This allows me to look at your computer and even take control of it, with your permission. Any problems you’re having can be quickly and easily remedied.

There are various ways of setting up your computer for an online meeting, and the easiest is to use a program called Crossloop. You can download it from crossloop.com with no charge.

A microphone allows us to talk to each other. If you have a microphone as part of your computer setup – most modern laptops do – then all well and good. However, we can also talk to each other using our phones, particularly if you have a portable phone that has a speaker facility. This allows you to hear what I’m saying, while the phone lies by your computer.

So if you’re interested, let me know by email and we can fix a date and time and agree a fee in advance. For the moment, I’d prefer it if you lived locally – in Edinburgh or the Lothians – and have been a client of mine in the past. And Crossloop is only available for Windows computers.

Upgrade to AVG 2013 Free

AVG released the 2013 upgrade of its free version about a month ago. Most users will have been asked to upgrade by the software itself. Some people go ahead and complete the process without any problems, while many other ignore the request in the hope that it will either go away, or that they’ll get around to somehow.

Upgrading, as opposed to the regular updating that AVG does on its own, is very important because by ignoring it you will eventually be left with an out of date version which will be pretty useless at doing what it was originally designed to do – protect your computer from viruses and malware.

So for those of you who have continued to use the older version on a wing and a prayer, here are the few steps you need to follow:

  1. Click on this link to go to the AVG download page on the cnet.com site.
  2. Click the green Download Now button.
  3. Click the Run button  at the foot of the screen if you’re using Internet Explorer.
  4. Firefox and Chrome users download settings work. In Firefox, double-click the file once you’ve downloaded it. In Chrome, once the file has been downloaded you get the chance to click on a link at the foot of the screen.
  5. Follow the instructions on the screen.
  6. Remember to stick to the basic protection offer, avoiding anything to do with the a free trial.
  7. Sit back and wait for the installation to complete. This may take a few minutes depending on your computer. If you mess up, you can always start again, by clicking the Cancel button in the Installation window.
  8. Click the Finish button when it appears.

Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself for taking control of a vital piece of software on your system.

How easy can it get?

There is an ongoing debate amongst my colleagues at Digital Unite about the development of technology and how it influences the way people learn to use a computer. The advent of the iPad, introduced a whole new way of doing emails and surfing the web. You could take photos with an iPad and send them by email. With an adaptor they could copy photos from a camera, make some basic changes to them and put them into albums. Learning to do this is remarkably easy because of its touch screen technology.

The argument goes: is this really learning to use a computer or are you just skimming the surface? The pro camp says that using a computer is about using it for the things you want to do – most people want to email, browse the Internet and share their photos. The con camp says: Yes, that’s all very well, but what if you want to use a computer to do things beyond what everybody else is using for: making a poster for your walking group, keeping a track of your money, editing a video you’ve taken on your camcorder?

The crux of the matter is – how much does a user need to learn before they can do the basics? With an iPad you can be up and running very quickly. But you’re restricted to what you can do without having to move up a level. And what does that mean? Well, and this is where the con camp have their point answered. How much of the basics that you’ve learned will be useful for doing more adventurous tasks, if all you’re doing is emailing and surfing the internet?

To compound the issue – along comes the Chromebook from Google. A Chromebook is a Samsung laptop with the Chrome operating system installed. Your starting point is the popular Google page (with the search box in it) using the Chrome browser. With a Google account you have access to all the most popular services Google offers, such as email, photo editing and basic office applications. The Chromebook has a tiny 16GB hard drive which is enough for the operating system and a bit more, because you get 100GB of storage space using Google Drive (free for the first two years). I’m guessing that there will be a touch screen version on a tablet soon. Google are marketing the Chromebook as simple and secure, and before long I suspect it will be bought by people who want a hassle-free experience of computing – very like an iPad (but at half the price) and nothing like as ‘complicated’ as a  Windows 7 (or 8) laptop which needs a lot of looking after.

And there’s the rub. An iPad and eventually a Chromebook (although it may be too soon to say) are great for keeping in touch, using the wonders of the internet and sharing your photographs and will be a great boon to people who aren’t interested in how or why a computer works. And I’m talking about the vast majority of people who use their computer for leisure. For the rest of you, a Windows laptop (or desktop) will always hold a fascination (I’m being facetious) because it has a life of it’s own, and you can do so much more with it.

Our Heads in the Cloud?

The growth of tablets and other mobile devices has been matched by the growth of services in the Cloud. What do we mean by the Cloud (note the capital letter) and what do we need to look out for, either as a small business or a home user?

TClouds over Arisaig he Cloud has been around for a long time, although we haven’t used that name until recently. The Cloud is as a remote way of using software and storage – remote in the sense that you are using the Internet by way of a company that is providing the service.*

Some of you may have come across services such as BT Vault or Apple’s iCloud. These are basically storage services using the Cloud, but Microsoft’s SkyDrive and Google’s Google Drive are competing with each other offering free basic office software as well. So if you are using a tablet or a smartphone you can create and share documents on various different devices as well as your desktop or laptop.

If you think about it, we’ve been using this sort of service for quite a while when we handle our emails using the Internet rather than a locally installed program such as Windows Live Mail. They’re stored in your mailbox (under your email address) which is protected by your password. We’ve been using Cloud computing without realising it. Creating a document or a spreadsheet is just another step forward – although we are still in the early stages of using software like this online. Windows 8 users will now be asked to sign up to the Microsoft cloud, just as Apple users are encouraged to use its iCloud service.

Lots of us use the Cloud as a way of backing up our data – usually photographs and emails if we’re working from home, or important data if we’re running a small business. It is a fast and reliable way to keep copies of items that are important to you. And they can be accessed easily. However, there are still some question marks over how secure your data is in the Cloud. Dropbox have recently been told to get their act together because of flaws in its security systems which exposed users passwords to hackers if they looked hard enough.

Cloud services are developing very fast in line with tablets and smartphones. Our need to work while on the move, having somewhere to store easily accessible data, will increase and security procedures will become tighter. But unless you can trust the Cloud provider, think about how we handle our emails, then I think it is still a waiting game before we use Cloud computing on a regular basis. There are many advantages but still too many pitfalls before we can completely switch over from using software and storage locally to working remotely in the Cloud.

*The opposite of remote is local, using software and storage space on your own computer.