Category Archives: Technology

What Is / Why Should You Definitely Use 2-Factor Authentication?

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Simply put, 2-Factor Authentication is an easy way to keep hackers from accessing your online accounts. It’s called a number of things: 2-Factor Authentication, 2-Step Verification, Multi-Factor Authentication, 2-Step Login, Login Approvals, Login Verification, etc. But no matter what it’s called, you should absolutely do it whenever possible!

Hopefully by now you know how important a good password is. But you should also know just how hard it is for sites to protect your personal information, including your login ID and password. Just in 2013 alone some of the web’s biggest names have been hacked including Facebook, Twitter, Target, Evernote, and Adobe.

Why is 2-Factor Authentication so important?  Because it’s pretty tough for a slimy teenage hacker in Romania to get ahold of your cell phone.  That’s right, with 2-Factor Authentication a hacker has to physically have your cell phone to get into your account. It adds a critical layer of security to your account by combining something in your head (your password) with something in your hand (your phone).  When you enable it, the site no longer lets new devices on it without first double-checking that the user attempting to login is actually you.  After correctly entering your password, in most instances the site requires you to enter a code sent via text message to your phone.  This way, even if a hacker gets ahold of your ID and password, they would still need to somehow get your physical cell phone to break into your account.

I love how this short video illustrates the concept:

So how do you set up 2-Factor Verification? Honestly, it’s a bit of a pain. Every site has a different way of doing it, and then you have to mess with your cell phone every time you login somewhere new. But, it’s still worth it. Just one time getting hacked and you will wish you had, especially if that hack is tied to your credit card somehow.

Fortunately, there’s this great site run by some guy (Evan Hahn) that lists pretty much every major site that has a 2-Factor Authorization option. Go there now and at least bookmark it. Seriously. Because passwords are pretty useless when they’re lonely.

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His Gift – another Ramirez Christmas video card

This year’s 8th annual Ramirez Christmas video card is dedicated to those who serve Him by serving others.  Merry Christmas!

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Fixing a Cracked iPhone Screen

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So your kid (ahem, or you) dropped your snazzy new iPhone in the parking lot and now the screen is all cracked up.

You’ve heard about the neighbor who bought the $30 replacement part from China and saved $50 by repairing the phone herself.

You decide to go for it and give it a shot yourself.

STOP!!! Seriously, get off Amazon and immediately start a Google search for iPhone repairs in your city.

Unless you enjoy teaching your kids new cuss words, DO NOT ATTEMPT to repair an iPhone yourself.

Microscopic screws. Ridiculously tiny cables. Flimsy wires. Sticky adhesive. Long, excruciatingly detailed instructional videos. A dozen different screw types and sizes (microscopic, very microscopic, like plankton microscopic, etc). Did I mention the screws are small?

$50 is a small price to pay for your sanity. Just do it. Seriously.

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Windows Family Safety – Free Web Filter/Activity Reporting Tool

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One of the most common questions parents ask me is, “How do you filter/monitor your kids’ Internet activity?” In our house, it’s through the utilization of Microsoft’s free Windows Family Safety software.

This only works on Windows PCs, but since my wife is the only one for which I’ve ponied up the money for a Macbook, the kids all still have basic Windows laptops, so this option works well for us. We’re also still using Windows 7, so I can’t quite speak to the cool new Windows 8 solutions either.  That said, I can tell you about my experience with Windows 7 and Windows Family Safety.

Overall, our family is very pleased with the experience. The kids do get annoyed sometimes when the filter gets a bit over ambitious on the Pinterest posts (almost anything with any sort of skin gets blocked – i.e. cute bracelets and ring photos). But I’d rather have it error on that side than the alternative.

Family Safety does an admirable job of filtering out all the bad stuff the Internet has to offer. It provides a number of “levels” of filtering, as well as a very comprehensive reporting tool listing everything your kids visit online. It’s cloud based, which lets you log on from any computer to check on things, and it even has tools to set time limits and such for each child.

And my favorite feature: it’s FREE! Yeah, I’m geeky and cheap.

Click here to learn all the details of Windows Family Safety, including how to install it on your computers.

NOTE: This only helps protect your kid’s computers.  Don’t forget about the rest of your Internet-enabled devices.  Read this post for more details on DNS Filters for your Internet router, and this post for more info on locking up your iPhones, iPods, and iPads.

And don’t be shy, please share this with other parents so they can learn how to better protect their kids from the nasty underbelly of the Internet.

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I Almost Cut The Cord

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Slowly but surely our family has been weaning itself from our DirecTV subscription. We bought an AppleTV and a Roku (and will inevitably get a Chromecast, because I’m just geeky like that). Our Wii system streams NetFlix, and our iPads, Kindle, and laptops all serve as personal video players. There is no shortage of ways for us to zone out to mindless television (a popular family vice).

So, I finally got around to calling DirecTV to see if my contract was up. What I learned is that they REALLY don’t want to lose customers. So much so that they cut my bill from $89/mo to $51/mo. They even tossed in additional free programming, all without entering a new contract. 3 minutes after sitting on hold for 15, I had aggressively cut into the cord, but pulled back just before slicing all the way through.

It’s amazing what the leverage of an expired contract can do these days. The last time I called, the story was drastically different. To summarize: “Your early termination fee is $250. Sukkka!”

What a terrible way to do business. Yes, I ultimately decided to stick with DirecTV (for now). But it’s definitely not because I appreciate them “taking care of their very loyal customer”. Nope. Maybe if they’d preemptively called me and offered this without me threatening to cancel I’d appreciate them. For me it’s all business, just like it is for them. $89 is not worth it, but $51 barely is, considering they have a strangle hold on ESPN. But guess what happens when ESPN offers online streaming for anything less than $50/mo. Yep, I’m gone. Immediately.

Guess what else? Now I’m excited to tell you all to immediately call DirecTV (or Dish or Time Warner or whomever) to see if your contract has expired. Because you, too, could save some serious cash by cutting into your cord.

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Instagram Adds Tagging to Photos – Change Your Child’s Settings to Avoid Unwanted Public Tags

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Instagram released an update to their app today featuring new “tagging” functionality. Dubbed “Photos of You”, the new feature is much like the photo tagging function on Facebook, allowing Instagram users to tag photos of themselves and other users. All of the photos you’re tagged in will show up in a new tab on your Instagram profile.

This is important for parents to understand because it means your kids may be tagged by others and those photos will (by default) automatically show up on your kid’s “Photos of You” tab. Now, if you’re already on top of it, your kid’s Instagram account should be set up as private (if not, here’s how). And if your account is set as private, only people who you accept as followers will get to see all the great “selfies” your child rushes to tag. BUT, if your child’s account is set to public, then any photo they tag of themselves AND any photo ANYONE ELSE tags of them will show up and be visible to the public.

Fortunately, Instagram allows you to control whether your tagged photos are added automatically or manually to your “Photos of You” tab. Unfortunately, they set the default to “Add Automatically”. So here’s a quick run-down on how to see the new feature, and how to change the settings to “Add Manually.”

Once you update your app, this is where you’ll find the new “Photos of You” tab:

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And, once you’re on the “Photos of You” tab, this is the button you push to edit your settings:

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In the settings area, simply select the “Add Manually” option and Instagram will now ask your permission before posting any photos tagged as you:

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For more information about “Photos of You” functionality, visit Instagram’s support page on the topic.

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6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Using Ask.fm

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Is anonymous posting encouraged?  Anyone – a classmate, colleague, ex-boyfriend, pedophile, next door neighbor, that creepy guy at the mall – anyone can post a question on your page, anonymously.

Are your questions/answers public?  There are no privacy settings on this site. ALL your “answers” are available for anyone with internet access (2.4 BILLION people!) to view at their leisure.

Are your answers permanent?  Those fun, goofy questions you’re answering may well come back to haunt you later in life (think of your future children, employers, spouse, the media if you ever become famous). You might also be surprised to learn that most web pages are “cached” or archived daily and old versions can be searched at any time (http://archive.org/web/web.php). So even if you “delete” an answer, it’s likely cached somewhere for life.

Is the site run by two Russian guys in the Republic of Latvia?  Do you really want to share your personal “answers”, connect your Facebook account, or trust your data with a company run in a former Russian province you probably can’t even point out on a map?

Were upwards of 6 suicides allegedly tied to bullying on the site?  This news article outlines the awful stories of several teens who were allegedly hurt so bad via the site that they ultimately took their own lives: http://bit.ly/10sLHAz.

Is it a magnet for sick, twisted, vulgar individuals?  Because it’s anonymous, people who have nothing but awful, hurtful, obscene things to say are drawn to it like flies to manure. Who wants to converse with gutless scum like that?

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Ask.fm – The ugly, anonymous, vulgar, bullying social site that kids are joining at an alarming rate.

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So my wife follows a slew of middle school girls on Instagram and Facebook. Recently she noticed a new site called Ask.fm popping up on several “about me” sections. We started doing a little research and what we learned is VERY alarming. To the point where I immediately blocked the entire ask.fm domain using our Open DNS and Windows Family Safety filters (read this post for more info re: installing good Internet filters on your home network).

What’s so alarming you ask? If you haven’t already, take a quick peak at the small sampling of “questions” and answers on a random 15 year old girl’s Ask.fm page in the image above. These are the PG-13 examples. I literally had to cut and paste to avoid sharing the extremely vulgar posts interspersed throughout the 800+ questions this one girl answered.

At first glance the site seems innocent enough. It’s a simple place to ask a fun or interesting question and get back immediate answers. However, the problem centers around the site’s decision to allow anonymous posts –  letting any malicious, horny, vindictive, or twisted individual post WHATEVER they want on your page. This could be a friend from school, an ex-boyfriend, a jealous peer, or an incarcerated pedophile. There is no way to tell who is posting what.

The site claims more than 40 million users and is run by Russian entrepreneurs based in Latvia. It’s also been named in various lawsuits associated with upwards of 6 teen suicides allegedly due to aggressive bullying on the site.

Because the site is so new, most parents are clueless. Please take a moment to share this post with other parents so we can address the dangers with our children before they are needlessly hurt by it (or worse). And, please take a moment to sit down with your kids to be sure they understand the dangers themselves. More than anything else teens need to know how to identify dangerous sites like these themselves – to be able to see through the hype and to recognize a concerning site on their own. Use this new knowledge as an opportunity to educate on the ways to do just that.

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Password Best Practices & 2-Step Verification

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There have been an alarming number of recent high-profile password hacking incidents among some of the largest online services such as Twitter, Apple, Facebook, and Dropbox. The latest being Evernote. Considering how lazy most of us are with our passwords, this is a very scary trend. To highlight the seriousness, let me toss out a quick scenario:

So, let’s assume you are smarter than 94% of us and have a nice, long, alphanumeric password with punctuation (something like “Ih@t3MyP@ssw0rd!”) for your gmail account. This is a very good first step. The problem occurs when you decide to use that same password for say Facebook, Twitter, your bank, and perhaps Amazon. Or maybe you even go so far as to use it everywhere, including that new dog grooming forum you joined last month. So what happens when one of these sites are hacked? Suddenly, that super strong uncrackable password is now as naked as your two year old in the kiddie pool. And, suddenly, someone has taken that password and cleaned out your bank account.

So what ARE the best password practices?  

If you have time, please read this great post on password best practices. If you’re like most everyone else, just keep reading and hopefully you’ll soak in a couple of the most basic points:

  • Make your passwords (yes, it stinks, but you have to have a bunch of them) nice and long (8 characters is bare minimum, 16 is considered pretty good) and as random as possible (no, your birthday/anniversary/kid’s initials are NOT random). Include capitalized letters and special characters whenever possible.
  • Your email and banking passwords are SUPER important. You need an unique password for these accounts. ONE per account. Not one per account type (i.e. all my bank accounts use this one password), but ONE specific password for EACH individual banking and/or email account. Banking accounts include anything you’ve tied your checking accounts to such as PayPal or Amazon. Email is especially important, because all those great “forgotten password” tools use your EMAIL to help you reset your password.
  • Your data accounts are nearly just as important. Most people are using the “cloud” to store more and more files these days. Services like Apple iCloud, DropBox, Box.net, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, Carbonite, etc. are popping up everywhere. They are super convenient, and yet, a poor password on any of these accounts is a recipe for disaster.
  • Use a strong password for anything tied to your credit card. There are probably more of these than you realize. Good examples are your Apple ID, your Google Account (Google Checkout), Amazon, eBay, BestBuy, OfficeDepot, AmericanAirlines, etc. Again, individual passwords are best, but if you must duplicate these, at least pick a good one to copy.
  • Don’t forget your computer password. It’s tempting to keep the login password(s) for your actual computer(s) simple and quick to type in. This can be one of the most devastating passwords to have hacked, as it opens up your entire home network to trouble. And, while you’re updating your computer password, go ahead and strengthen the password on your router (which is actually the very first door a hacker has to open).
  • Use 2-step verification. The most advanced sites are now offering a process called 2-step verification. I’ll be honest, turning this on can be an annoyance, but it’s well worth the small hassle. Basically, this forces you to enter a special code sent via text to your cell phone in order to log in a particular site from a new device. Not everyone offers this (yet), but here are links to a few of the most important ones: Google, Dropbox, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, and LastPass.
  • Remember all your passwords SECURELY with a password manager. Instead of writing your passwords down and “hiding” them on the shelf next to your monitor, consider a password management service. There are a number of these tools, and I’m not really qualified to assess their security, so I’ll refer you instead to a great  Lifehacker article on the topic. Per their recommendations I prefer to use LastPass.
  • Teach your kids. While they may not yet have an online bank account, nor any credit cards to hack, teaching your kids good password practices is a very important life skill. It’ll also help keep other kids (and predators) from hacking their social sites, email, etc.

Now that you know some best practices for password security, enjoy the following info-graphic highlighting just how smart you are compared to the rest of the world.

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The Internet is a Dangerous Place for Kids

What parents need to know before letting their kids online.

Most parents acknowledge that unrestricted Internet access can be dangerous for children. But few realize just how dangerous. It’s shocking to learn just how many households leave unrestricted computers, iPads, gaming consoles, etc. laying around for their kids to explore. For the sake of my kids, I thought I’d post some of the scariest stats I’ve found on the topic. Perhaps this will help get more families to consider installing filters and locking down their iOS devices to protect their own kids (and mine/yours when they’re visiting).

And finally, to bring it all home, let me share a much more personal example. This is an actual email my daughter received from her 12 year old friend. Yes, this stuff can happen to anyone!

Let that one sink in for a bit. This was a huge wake-up call in our house. After reading this email, these weren’t just scary stats anymore. It quickly became a sickening reality.

I should also point out a few very important things about this specific example:

  1. This happened while playing chess. All those cute iPods you’ve “locked-up” by turning off the Internet browser? Yeah, they’re still a dangerous link to pedophiles if you have something as simple as a chess game that has a chatting option.
  2. This happened to a girl right here in our neighborhood.  Just because we live in one of the safest suburbs in the nation, all a sexual predator needs is a tiny pipeline into your Internet enabled devices to reach your kids.
  3. Within minutes of my daughter reading this, my wife had also read it and was reaching out to the girls’ parents. Our kids’ email is set up to send copies of everything they send and receive to Mom.
  4. This friend did some dumb stuff, but ultimately, she knew enough to reach out for help. Regardless of all the tools and settings and precautions we take, the most important one is teaching your kids the following important online safety tips.

Online Safety Tips

For more details about the stats in this email visit:  www.internetsafety101.org/Pornographystatistics.htm

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