Project Unicorn Mission Debrief

Unified Network Interface for Collaborative Open Route Navigation (UNICORN)

In the early months of 2014, Geek Squad got another request to send a badge where no badge had gone before. Having already explored the stratosphere with the Icarus I mission, the team decided to create a vehicle that would help prepare us for future remote planetary missions.

After months of development and testing, UNICORN was launched on June 21st, 2014 at 9am CDT. The goal of the mission was to put the fate of the badge in the hands of our Agents, using UNICORN to maneuver the vehicle through the Magic Castle (aka Best Buy’s corporate headquarters) and to one of three rendezvous points that would determine the fate of the Agent’s badge.

The Build

The UNICORN vehicle was made up of a few core systems. The heart of the vehicle was a Raspberry Pi (RPI) which was running Raspbian Linux and was connected to a camera and wireless network adapter. The RPI ran a Python script that triggered a vote tally on the control server, accepted the output of that tally, then sent the appropriate movement command to an Arduino microcontroller that was tied in to the vehicle hardware. Once it was moving, the vehicle used the microcontroller to check the vehicle’s health, upload that status data along with a picture to the server, and tell the control website to restart the command countdown.

The vehicle was built on top of a proper 1:10th scale RC chassis. It had a great transmission and differential, independent four wheel suspension, a steering system built for servo control and more than enough room to fit batteries and control components.

The control website was created using the Silex PHP framework and lots of Javascript. The interface was divided into three sections: control, a map and the vehicle status. Once logged in, a participating Agent had until the timer reached zero to submit their vote on the vehicle’s direction. The vehicle then called a tally and moved in the direction that had the most votes.

 

Materials

Qty Description
1 Tamiya M-05 1/10th Scale Mini Kit
1 Raspberry Pi Model B
1 3.3v Arduino Pro Mini
1 Short MicroSD adapter
1 16Gb Class 10 MicroSD card
1 Raspberry Pi Camera
1 Cellphone magnetic lens kit
1 USB wireless adapter with external antenna
1 L298N based motor controller
1 Steering servo with wiper position lead
1 Nokia 5110 LCD Screen
1 Limefuel 13,000mah dual USB output battery
1 6 cell, double stick RC battery pack
3 Tamiya polycarbonate paints (white, silver, black)
1 Misc. electronic components (headers, terminals, wire, etc.)
1 Misc. hardware components (screws, metal stock, wood, etc.)

 

Project Design

Empowering a community of Agents to determine the fate of a badge via a modified RC car involves careful design and planning, lots of creativity, and, sometimes, an unexpected outcome. The descriptions, materials, and schematics provided here are for educational purposes only.

mark1int
An interior view of the vehicle under construction

mark1extThe completed vehicle

 

carschematiccrop Schematic of the vehicle’s power and control systems

 

missionstats The Agent control page of the UNICORN website

Disclaimer:

Neither Geek Squad nor the members of the UNICORN team assume any liability for the accuracy of the content on this page or the outcome of any project attempting to replicate our work.

unicornbadge200

Agent Jackie P. has been in the ranks of Geek Squad since 2008. When she isn’t overseeing a team of remote repair Agents, she can be found riding around on the beach in the sunny state of Florida, or mixing electronic dance music on rainy days.

Ten Tips to Keep a Clean Computer

Does your computer feel slower than it used to be? Does it take longer to start up or for programs to load? If so, chances are your computer has accumulated some “digital dust” and needs a little spring cleaning.

Nothing can substitute for having an expert to sit down and assess your device. We do offer a Computer Tune Up service that involves one of our online Agents taking a look through your machine remotely and getting it in better shape. Of course, you would have to log in to our chat platform and do a couple of simple tweaks to your computer before our Agent could get a look at it. If working on your machine seems intimidating, that might be the way to go.

To better understand what causes your computer to slow down over time (and what you can do about it), here are ten sources of “digital dust.” The tips are based on a blog post Agent Wiebusch did a couple years ago on reasons your computer may be running slow. We’ve updated the advice a bit.

1) Too many programs running at the same time.
Over the lifespan of a computer it is common for users to download programs, applications and other data that ends up “running in the background.” Many of these programs start automatically and you may not be aware they are open. The more things that run in the background, the less “attention span” your computer has to do other things you are asking it to do. Here are instructions for viewing programs running on your Windows machine. If you are using a Mac, these are some instructions for seeing what’s running on your device.

Try to avoid downloading too many web browser-helpers like internet-search bars, programs that claim to “speed up” your internet or your computer, or multiple anti-malware programs. One or two may be fine, but too many will result in slow performance. Uninstall programs that you do not use. Once this deadwood is trimmed, you may notice you machine has become more responsive.

2) Not enough free RAM.
“RAM” is what your computer uses for temporary working and thinking space. The more you have the merrier your computer will be. If you look back to reason 1 in this article and have determined you need all those programs running, perhaps your computer doesn’t have enough RAM to do that effectively. The hard drive inside your computer may make a lot of noise, accompanied by slow operation, if you are out of RAM.

RAM is a piece of hardware that can be added to your machine. Four gigabytes (4GB) is the least you want in newer computers, but the rule of thumb is to add as much as is affordable for you.

3) Virus/Malware infection.
Virus or malware programs running in the background can divert your computer’s attention away from what you want it to do. Internet slowdowns and general slow operation of the entire computer can be one of the symptoms of an infection. You should have the computer scanned for a malware infection to determine if this is the cause. We have a free virus and spyware scanner available from our website.

4) Low hard drive space.
This generally applies to older computers. Hard drives, which store all of your computer’s information, only have a finite amount of space. Once filled up the computer no longer has the ability to manipulate your files. The computer will slow down, eventually becoming unusable.

Generally, Windows will alert you to “low disk space” if this is the case. Moving some of your less-used files such as pictures, music, and movies to an external hard drive would be a viable solution to regaining hard drive space. You can usually install a bigger hard drive as well. Deleting temporary files and performing a disk cleanup are also good ways to reclaim wasted space.

5) Due for a restart.
So, this computer has not been restarted in…um, I don’t know how long. Yes, every once in a while it is a good idea to restart your computer. Some updates cannot be completed until you restart. In addition, restarting your computer can free up some resources that could be getting bogged down by buggy programs.

6) Sharing a wireless network.
“My internet is slow, but the computer is running fast!” There are many possible reasons this can be happening. If you are on a wireless network, check to see if anyone else on your wireless is streaming video, downloading music or playing online games. Those activities tend to suck up a lot of bandwidth. You should also make sure your wireless network is secure so someone else isn’t stealing your internet bandwidth. Wireless network security is your first line of defense against fraudsters and you should make sure you network is password-protected..

7) Too many bells and whistles.
Sure, that animated pointer and hi-resolution image of your favorite supercar look nice, but those kind of things can also slow your computer down. Animations and images must be loaded into memory every time you start your PC, leaving less memory available for other, more important tasks.

8 ) Scanning programs running.
Check to make sure your antivirus program, anti-spyware program or automatic backup program is not the reason for the slowdown. If it is, I suggest you wait it out. Usually this type of activity is a necessity. Manufacturers of these types of software try to make everyday operations unobtrusive to you. There are times, however, when an update must be done or scanning must take place. Your computer will be a little slow to respond to you when this is happening.

Remember it is not necessary to scan your entire computer every single day for viruses and spyware. Once per week should be fine. The same applies for data backups. A complete system backup doesn’t need to run every single day for the average home user.

9) Not meeting software requirements.
Software usually has a list of requirements called out in the product description or other accompanying literature. Things such as processor speed, operating system, memory (RAM), hard drive space, and minimum video card requirements usual appear with the product description somewhere. Please note that these are minimum requirements. These specifications are the absolute minimum to make the software run. Run it will – run well it may not. Try and meet or surpass the system “recommendations” of your software, not just barely make the “requirements.”

10) A “fragmented” hard drive.
This is becoming less of an issue with newer computers, but if you have an older PC it is worth a mention. Perhaps your hard drive needs a “defrag.”

Imagine a jigsaw puzzle. Computers like to store pieces of a file together, like a completed puzzle. Over time, with normal use these pieces can get scattered all over the hard drive; Similar to when your puzzle first came out of the box. The computer has to look to find all the pieces before it can access the file. This is not a problem if only a few files are fragmented. Once multiplied over several thousand files, however, we have a cumulative slowdown of your computer. Defragmenting your hard drive organizes all these pieces and puts them back together again.

Protecting your Precious Photos

1270322Adapted from content by Agent Laura M. and Agent Zach T.

We all have possessions we value. In the physical world, we might value cars, jewelry, houses or cabins. We also value the relationships we have with family, friends, and pets. And, as with most things we value, we work very hard to protect those things we value from loss and destruction.

But what about the memories we’ve captured in our photos and videos? We value those and often go to great lengths to protect them. It used to be we kept those things on bookcases or in drawers, photo albums and file cabinets. Not anymore. These days, a lot of what’s important to us are strings of zeros and ones stored on computers. Those things are a lot harder to secure and protect.

This is where that old saying about losing data comes in. You know the one –
there are two kinds of people in the world; those who have lost data and those who are about to.

It’s important to be be careful with the electronic versions of keepsakes. Since it is likely that you regularly download new files to the “Pictures” directory on your computer, we highly recommend clients set up a regular data back-up routine. Here are a few different solutions for how to approach this process.

External Hard Drive: Perfect for media hounds, or families with only one computer. External hard drives can hold an amazing amount of data. Some consumer devices hold as much as 4 TB of data – more than even the most avid photographer will ever need. To put this into perspective, 1 TB of data would fill about 1,400 CD-ROMs. Another bit of good news is the cost of these hard drives keeps coming down. You should be able to buy one much, much bigger on the hard drive in the computer you own for between $80 and $200. Both Windows and Apple machines have backup programming built right into the operating systems. It will be easy to set up a routine that backs up your computer weekly, which is the frequency we reccommend.

To set up a backup routine on your Windows machine using the Backup and Restore feature:

1. right-click on your local drive
2. select “Properties”
3. select the “Tools” tab
4. select “Back up now”
5. choose a destination for your backups (your external drive)
6. schedule the days/times for your backups

To set up a backup routine on your Mac using the Time Machine for Apple utility:

1. open the Time Machine utility
2. select the disk where you want your backups to be saved (your external drive)

Time Machine makes hourly backups for the last 24 hours, weekly backups for the last month, and monthly backups for all previous months. The oldest backups will be deleted when your destination disk becomes full.

Advantages: No ongoing fees, doesn’t require Internet connection.

Drawbacks: Only accessible on that computer, external hard drives can be bulky to transport.

Network Attached Storage (or NAS drive): NAS drives are like souped up versions of the external hard drives we talked about above. And, like those external hard drives, you can use utilities on your devices’ operating system to create backupes. Typically, these devices have much more storage and can be easily accessed by multiple computers and devices in your home. They’re perfect for families with many computers and a lot of files. Some NAS drives can even be accessed wirelessly! It’s like giving your family your own private cloud.

Advantages: can be shared across multiple computers on your network.

Drawbacks: NAS devices require a router which can make them tricky to integrate into your home network.

EyeFi SD Card: This device is perfect for people who use a digital camera. Essentially, it’s an SD card with the ability to wirelessly connect to your smartphone, tablet or computer. This magical SD card allows users to back up their SD card onto another machine without any special equipment – just stick it in your camera and it will use the Internet to send your pictures to your computer. That way, if you are disciplined about backing up your pictures and you drop your camera off the Golden Gate Bridge, at least you won’t lose the pictures.

Advantages: Allows you to offload photos without any special equipment – great while you’re on vacation

Drawbacks: Requires a wireless internet connection to work.

Cloud Storage: If you use a number of different computers in a variety of locations and want to be able to access your data anywhere you go, then cloud storage is probably the best solution for you. Basically, cloud storage involves backing your computer up over the Internet to a server maintained by a company to whom you pay a fee to save your data. Think of it like a safety deposit box at your local bank. If anything happens to your camera, computer or external drive, you have backup copies located somewhere else. You can access the files anywhere that you have an Internet connection. Many online companies offer cloud storage, including DropBox, Carbonite, SugarSync and Backblaze. Of course, Microsoft, Google and Apple each offer cloud storage that is tied in to their operating systems. Some companies offer data-management apps that you can install on your tablet or smartphone that automaticall back up those devices to a cloud storage platform. If you want to share your digital albums with friends and family, a photo sharing service like Flickr, Instagram or Photobucket would be your best bet. Services like this often offer customizable albums to help you store, share and organize your photo library. Some even offer limited photo editing

Advantages: Easier to access your files from anywhere, files protected even if something happens to your home,

Drawbacks: Unless you have copies of the images on your device, you will need an Internet connection to view them. In addition to that, most services only offer a limited amount of space for free, so if you’re a photographer taking huge panoramic shots then you may have to end up paying for more storage space.

Don’t let the intangibility of your most important photos and memories stop you from taking steps to protect it. As you can see, there’s a solution out there for everyone. If you have questions about which approach you should take or need help setting up your backup routine, your friendly neighborhood Geek Squad Agent is standing bty. Chat with an Agent today, at at 1-800-433-5778, or stop by for a visit at your local Geek Squad Precinct in Best Buy.

The Icarus I Project

Anyone who has called upon Geek Squad to help them out of a tech jam probably noticed the badge our Agent had clipped to his or her belt. In front. On the Agent’s left side.

What most people don’t know is there is set of principles and standards surrounding the way an Agent handles their badge. For instance, according to tradition, an Agent is required to carry their badge at all times. And Agents “may not use your badge to obtain free donuts more than once a month.”* The badge is a symbol of being a member of an elite band of technology warriors and Agents, as a group, take them very seriously.

One of the rules is an Agent should never leave their badge unattended. If a member of the Agent fraternity comes upon an unattended badge, they will confiscate it and retain it until they can return it to its rightful owner culturally-awesome and somewhat embarrassing way.

The Icarus I project is an out-growth of just such an effort.

In the fall of 2012 an Agent at our corporate headquarters – who shall remain nameless- made the mistake of leaving his badge, number 13337, unattended in his workspace. One of his colleagues, noticing this oversight, grabbed the badge. And kicked off an effort that created the project featured here.

On December 1st 2012, Geek Squad entered the space race by successfully sending that confiscated badge to near-space. After spending a month to design and build the capsule period, a team of Agents launched Icarus I on that cold December day. The capsule, with the Agent’s badge, achieved an altitude of nearly 90,000 feet and traveled 165 miles. The flight lasted approximately two hours and forty minutes, after which the capsule returned safely to Earth and was recovered by the ground crew.


 

 

The Build

The Icarus I capsule employed a modified Styrofoam bait cooler for the primary payload container. A custom-constructed aluminum mounting arm was used to secure the payload (a Geek Squad badge) to the exterior of the capsule and mount internal capsule components. Inside the capsule were two GoPro Hero cameras secured to the aluminum mount, one facing directly down toward Earth and the second facing outward toward the badge.

In addition, Icarus I contained a SPOT satellite GPS tracking unit, two custom-built electronics charging assemblies, a battery pack, hand warming packs, and miscellaneous air and newspaper packing materials to protect the components. The capsule lid was secured using zip ties. A 1200g Kaymont weather balloon was attached 5 feet above a 3 foot parachute from which the payload was suspended by an additional 15 feet of rope. The balloon was inflated using 94.85 cubic feet of industrial grade Helium. With a total payload weight of 1294 grams, the vehicle achieved an ascent rate of approximately 900 ft/minute.

Materials

Qty Description
1 Styrofoam bait cooler
NA Badge gantry materials, miscellaneous hardware and rope
2 GoPro Hero cameras
2 GoPro skeleton housing
2 GoPro tripod mounts
2 32GB SDHC memory card
1 SPOT locator
2 4-pack Energizer AA Advanced Lithium batteries
2 LT1302 (Mintyboost based) charging circuits
2 Mini USB cables for GoPro charging
1 1200g weather balloon (Kaymont, 3cm opening)
1 3ft parachute
1 Helium tank, K cylinder (217 scf)
1 Helium custom regulator + connections

 

Project Design

Sending an unmanned aerial balloon with a treasured payload to near-space involves intense planning, exact engineering and a little luck. Very specific federal regulations must be followed, precisely designed components need to be constructed, and care must be taken to ensure safety of those on the ground. The descriptions, materials and schematics provided here are for educational purposes only. DO NOT attempt a near-space mission without consulting professionals.

 

capsule-overview-small

charging-system-small

badge-gantry-small

Disclaimer: 

Neither Geek Squad nor the members of the Icarus team assume any liability for the accuracy of the content on this page or the outcome of any project attempting to replicate our work.

mission-patch-small

*The Little Orange Book

It Could Be Your HDMI Cable…

We are asking our televisions to do more and more these days. As the centerpiece of our home theater systems, our TVs can go from pulling in our favorite news show in the morning to streaming that YouTube video Mom just sent to us over lunch, then playing the latest Mad Max movie during evening “wind-down” time. And anytime we are not using the TV’s screen, it serves as our connection to the music libraries available through the ever-growing list of streaming services. That is one busy machine.

Naturally, all these pictures and sound don’t fall out of the sky. (Yes Mom, I know that’s the way it used to work.) Most of us have any number of set-top boxes, gaming consoles and audio receivers connected to our TVs. Most of those devices are connected to the “display” (that’s home-theater-installer language for “TV”) using HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) cables. Because the modern TV is much smarter than the old tube TV, they handle a lot more data and, therefore, need complex cables to bring the data to the device.

Since HDMI cables are a little more complicated than the old coax cables, long cable runs can be a problem. I recently got together with our Agent University video production team to shed a little light on how HDMI cables work and how to make sure they work properly in your home theater setup.

I hope this helped. If you are having trouble with any part of your home theater, we have seasoned home theater installers standing by. Give us a call 1-800-433-5778 or stop in at your (http://www.bestbuy.com/site/store-locator)local Best Buy store. We’re here to help.

Agent Gernbacher has been wrangling misbehaving and unruly Home Theater, PC, and Car Audio technology for the last 15 years. When he is not out saving the world as a Secret Weapon for the Geek Squad, he is preparing his little ones to take over the world, making people laugh with his ridiculous eyebrows and personality, pretending to moonlight as a chef or raging to whatever sounds he can find on the Internet.

Free Your Speed: Tips for a Faster Connected Home

The modern family home is more connected than ever to the Internet, and these days that includes everything from multiple computers, tablets, gaming systems, 4KTVs, even network-controlled lights and thermostats. Yet many households fail to realize their expanding collection of hardware – growing to an average of nearly eight connected devices each this year – strain home networks, producing sluggish connections and a real need to free their speed.

The good news is that setting up home network to support all your connected devices is simpler than you thought. Here’s how to free your speed.

Start with your high-speed Internet connection

Not all broadband connections are the same, especially when you’ve got a family of avid gamers or lovers of streaming movies. You’ll want to ensure that the Internet coming into your house is fast enough to support what you’re looking to do.

To start, you’ll want to see how fast your existing connection is. You can do this by visiting our Geek Squad Internet speed test page. This tool measures your connection in Mbps (Megabits per second).

How fast should your incoming connection be? For basic streaming video, we recommend at least 3 Mbps or higher. For HD quality video, 5 to 10 Mbps is recommended. You’ll want to compare what you’re actually getting to what your Internet package provides and contact your Internet service provider if you need to upgrade.

Now that you have your Internet sorted out, it’s time to consider what router works best to free your speed.

Newer routers are more powerful routers

If you have an older router, it may not be able to handle the number of connected devices you’ve added and all the new streaming music, movies and games you’ve started using. Now may be a good time to upgrade. When you’re looking at new routers, you’ll want to consider several features to free your speed.

You’ll come across an alphabet’s worth of letters describing wireless networks. You may have heard of “Wireless G” and may be wondering what the “N” and “AC” you’re seeing on boxes means.

Those letters describe what wireless standards the router supports (for example 802.11n or 802.11g). For a long time, Wireless G was the standard for most routers, but this has been largely replaced by the faster, more capable Wireless N. For the latest and greatest, though, you’ll be looking for Wireless AC.

A new router will support more than one standard, usually whatever it’s rated for and the older ones. A Wireless AC router, for example, will support AC, N, and G. That’s important because not all of your connected devices will support the latest standards. A Wireless AC router, however, gets you the most compatibility for all devices, and best performance for Wireless AC compatible devices.

The wireless portion of your network isn’t the only part of the router that affects speed. Inside every router is a processor or CPU that acts like a traffic cop, processing incoming and outgoing data through the network firewall and then transmitting to and from your computers.

The faster the processor, the less time that information spends inside your router and the faster your overall network speeds. Newer routers (and higher end routers) have powerful processors that sort data packets quickly and efficiently.

A router that supports the latest wireless standard and has a good processor will easily handle all your existing devices as well as any new connected tech you bring home in the future.

Keep your wireless router up to date

Modern routers use firmware in the same way that your computer uses an operating system like Windows. Most current routers will be set to check for updated firmware automatically.

Firmware updates may improve how well your devices connect to the network and the router’s overall performance. These updates can also correct security flaws as they’re discovered. You’ll want to log into your router’s administration page occasionally to ensure the firmware is up to date.

Keep your devices up to date as well

Computers and connected devices use software to control their network hardware. Computer operating systems like Windows or Mac OS X will check for software updates automatically, but if you do run into issues with your network, make sure to check for updated network drivers from the computer’s maker as well. This is especially important after an operating system update, including Windows 10.

Tablets and other connected devices may have updated firmware to improve network performance and security, so it’s important that you’re checking for the latest updates there as well.

If your devices support it, connect to your 5GHz network

Most new routers are “dual-band” in that they support both 2.4GHz and 5GHz radio bands. The older 2.4GHz band is like a crowded highway, as you not only have your neighbor’s router running on it (important in an apartment building), but also older cordless phones, wireless mice and keyboards, Bluetooth, etc. In some cases, even Microwaves and faulty lamps can put out 2.4GHz “radio noise.”

When switching a device to the 5GHz network, there are fewer devices and more “channels” to choose from, meaning your device can transmit and receive without as many interruptions. There is one downside – 5GHz signals don’t have the range of a 2.4GHz signal.

This isn’t a problem for most homes, but if you have a larger house, there are options to overcome this such as wireless repeaters that work with your existing router.

With amount of wireless traffic generated in the average US household growing by leaps and bounds, your Internet experience can be limited by just how much “attention” your wireless router can share between devices. Applying these network tips we’ve shared will help provide you with my bandwidth to support your always-on, totally-connected family.

Agent Derek Meister has been a member of Best Buy’s Geek Squad for over ten years, helping clients reduce their techno-stress in-store, in-home and remotely as part of the Geek Squad Online Support team. When he’s not talking technology with his clients, he enjoys finding new ways to combine tech with a bicycle habit.

New Windows, New Threats

Email scammers are finding new opportunities with to trick unsuspecting victims into downloading malicious software with the recent release of Windows 10. Tech news sites are filled with stories about the new Microsoft operating system release, and many of our clients are excited to get it onto their computers. Some of our clients are reporting fake Microsoft emails from scammers that claim to have the entire Windows 10 upgrade attached.

 

Obviously, that attachment is not the full 3GB upgrade, which won’t fit in the standard inbox attachment limit. So what is that attachment? Malicious software, like a virus or spyware. If you get one of these emails, go ahead and delete it without clicking on that attachment. It won’t hurt to run a full system scan with your antivirus program, or even get a second opinion by running our free System Analyzer tool to confirm your system is clean.

What’s the safe way to install Windows 10? Visit the Microsoft Windows 10 Upgrade page for options that include using Windows Update or a direct digital download straight from Microsoft. And in the meantime, check out our Windows 10 Tech Tips page for advice on how to prepare your system before the upgrade, and get started with Windows 10 once it’s installed. Still need help? Geek Squad Agents are available to help 24/7 online and at our Precinct in your local Best Buy store.

Another recent scam that our clients have encountered are malicious website pop-ups designed to look like the Windows “Blue Screen of Death” (BSOD). The fake pop-up contains the white text on blue background typical of a BSOD error message, but contain scare tactic messages with contact information for fake tech support scammers. Other versions of this scam involve a malware program that infects your computer and takes over the screen with this fake BSOD message.

Agent Derek has been removing techno-stress from the lives of his Geek Squad clients since 2005. When not providing remote help as an Online Support Agent, he likes to take to the road on a vintage motorcycle for adventures through Ohio country highway.

Is Your Tech Ready for School?

As summer winds down, students everywhere are looking for school supplies and picking out the perfect backpack. But just having enough pens and notebooks isn’t enough anymore. Students of all ages are finding they need some tech in their backpacks too. Now is a good time to ensure all that technology is ready to go back to school as well.

 

Let’s review the basics of Tech 101 with these tips from our Agents:

Setup Your Security

The Internet is an important education tool. Protect your computer from malicious software with an up-to-date antivirus program. You also might want to take a minute and learn what you can do to avoid malicious software. We have a number of articles on our website with tips on staying safe online and this blog keeps a pretty close eye on Web security, so check back often.

Want to see how clean your system is? Run the free System Analyzer tool powered by Webroot SecureAnywhere.

Bring the Backup

The most valuable items on your computer are your personal files. Whether it’s the midterm thesis you’ve spent weeks working on or those pics from that party last summer, those files are not easily replaced if lost due to a hard drive failure or virus corruption. Take the time to setup a backup plan for your computer. And don’t forget to back up your smartphone and tablet.

If you need help with protecting your computer, or if it’s 3am and that book report is unfinished because a virus has taken over your system, our Agents are available 24 hours a day to get your studies back on track. They can’t help you with your homework, but they can help your tech keep you going throughout the school year.

Agent Derek has been removing techno-stress from the lives of his Geek Squad clients since 2005. When not providing remote help as an Online Support Agent, he likes to take to the road on a vintage motorcycle for adventures through Ohio country highway.

Spam Down, Email Threats Still High

Symantec’s Intelligence report for June shows a marked drop in spam received by business email users worldwide. Their metrics show businesses received a little less than half the spam they usually receive over a month. Perhaps the spammers are taking vacation days as well?

Of course, this doesn’t mean users can take time off from being careful with their email. While email-based malicious software and phishing scams are down, there were still over 57.6 million new malware variants created in June, a significant rise from April and May. So, although you may be getting fewer bad emails, those emails are more likely to have a new virus that will try to get around your computer’s security software. We’re also seeing an increase in the number of ransomware attacks last month. Ransomware is malicious software that will attack your system, encrypt your important data and documents, and then ask you to pay a ransom to get the decryption tool to get your data back. It’s nasty and it’s on the rise.

Here are six tips for keeping your data safe:

  • Use proactive software protection.
    Anti-malware software is a basic requirement for initial protection on all computers.
  • Make sure you are backing up your data on a regular basis.
    Viruses and spyware can creep into your computer and easily degrade performance and corrupt or even destroy data.
  • Use a firewall.
    A firewall places either software or hardware between your computer and the wider Internet. Your home wireless router will have firewall software in place to protect your computer from a random stranger connecting directly to it. Make sure your router’s security settings are setup correctly.
  • Be cautious of suspicious emails from unknown sources.
    Don’t open emails with attachments if you don’t know the sender. Even when you know the sender, be wary if you didn’t expect the attachment.
  • Steer clear of websites of ill repute.
    These are havens for malicious and annoying intruders like spyware. Remember, “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”.
  • Keep your operating system updated.
    Repair the security holes that hackers love to exploit with the newest critical updates from Microsoft or Apple. For Windows 7 and 8.1 users, keep in mind that Windows 10 will be launching towards the end of this month.

So remember, one of the reasons spam works to spread viruses and spyware is that it looks so innocent. To avoid the hassles that come with an infected machine, treat every email with care and always be suspicious of messages from senders you do not recognize.

Visit http://geeksquad.com/diy for more “Do It Yourself” tips on using your technology.

Agent Derek has been removing techno-stress from the lives of his Geek Squad clients since 2005. When not providing remote help as an Online Support Agent, he likes to take to the road on a vintage motorcycle for adventures through Ohio country highway.

Reserving Windows 10 Upgrade

Our friends at Microsoft have developed a new version of their Windows operating system, Windows 10, which will be available for download on July 29. The upgrade will be available free to users who have Windows 7 Service Pack 1 or Windows 8.1 installed on their machines. Microsoft is encouraging Windows users who are going to take advantage of this free update to “reserve” their copy of the system before the release date to ensure a smooth transition.

Although some copies of Windows 10 will be available for purchase, most of the work done to distribute the software will be done online. In order to prepare the way for this release, Microsoft sent out updates to both the Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 operating systems that will make it easier for you to successfully download the new software. Those updates contain something called the “Get Windows 10” app, which is why you started seeing the Windows logo icon in your task bar a couple weeks ago. Your task bar with the Get Windows 10 app looks like this:
task bar with Windows icon circled

We recommend clients reserve a copy of Windows 10 ahead of time to make sure they get the update as soon as possible. It appears Microsoft is using the reservation model so they can trigger downloads from their side rather than withstanding the onslaught of traffic at their servers from users trying to download the software when it first becomes available. Traditionally, early-adopters tend to overwhelm servers when an important or popular product first becomes available. Late nights trying to download the latest version of Grand Theft Auto has shown me the advantage of letting the download be triggered when the source can actually complete the activity.

Windows 10 will have a new, expanded Start menu (similar to the one that was part of the pre-Windows 8 system), a more effective way of allowing users to work on more than one application at a time, a new browser, and will feature Cortana, Microsoft’s personal digital assistant. For more on what’s new in the new system, go to the Windows 10 page on the Microsoft website.

The people leading the rollout say that it could take a couple of weeks before the download becomes available to every person who reserved a copy. People with newer computers should be able to complete the download process in twenty minutes or so. If your machine is an older model, downloading and installing Windows 10 could take more than an hour. Be sure you leave yourself enough time so you can handle the blips in the download or restart the process if necessary.

And, as always, we strongly recommend you back up the data on your computer before you update your operating system. For advice on the best way to get this done, visit the “Tips for Backing Up Your Data” page on our website.

On the Windows 10 release date, July 29, we will be posting some additional information on installing and optimizing the new system on our website. Visit the home page for the latest and greatest.

We are having Windows 10 Open Houses at the Precincts in all Best Buy stores on August 1, 8, 15, 22 and 29. Agents will be available to help clients understand how to update their computers with the new Windows 10, do demos and answer questions about to use the new system.

Good luck with the download and remember, Agents are standing by to help if you run into any problems.

Agent Gavin C. has been fighting the proverbial good fight and bringing technological enlightenment to clients since 2006. When not analyzing the series of tubes that is Geeksquad.com, he enjoys the simple things in life: rock music, football, and freedom. From his perch at the Magic Castle, he ensures that Geek Squad remains a shining light for truth and justice.