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.

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.

Online Virus Removal Scams

Imagine this – you are sitting at home minding your own business when you receive a phone call from an official-sounding person who tells you your computer is seriously infected with viruses. They say they will help you out and eliminate the viruses if you will provide your credit card information.

An increasing number of computer users are receiving similar phone calls and some — afraid of potential data loss and device damage — are surrendering their bank account information in the hope this will protect their tech.

If you get such a call, we recommend only one response — hang up. It’s a scam!

Our clients continue to report phone scams targeting both PC and Mac owners. Cybercriminals pretending to work for Microsoft, Geek Squad, or another other nationally-recognized tech company call their intended victims, claim they’ve scanned the potential victim’s computers remotely and found viruses on them. Taking advantage of the average computer user’s fear of viruses, they trick people into giving them remote access to the computer.

Once the scammer has access to the victim’s system, they will often show the user scary-looking error messages on the machine as “proof” their machine is infected. They will then say the only solution is for the user to make an immediate payment to the “technician” so he can clean up the “dangerously infected” computer. Often, they will the offer to install more “protection” software onto the system to prevent this from happening again. Unfortunately, this is most often the scammer using access to the victim’s machine to install other bits of malware to capture the victim’s online shopping or banking information.

If your first instinct is not to trust cold calls about fixing your computer, you’re absolutely right. Scammers use publicly available information (like your name and telephone number) to make initial contact and can often make an educated guess about your PC’s operating system. They can sound very convincing (they are good at this), but don’t be taken in.

It’s important to understand that reputable tech companies (like Microsoft, Geek Squad and other tech leaders) will not scan computers remotely without permission from the owner. They will not call computer users unless they are already working with them on a support issue initiated by the user.

Should you get one of these telephone calls, here are a few tips to help protect yourself:

  • When in doubt, hang up and call the company back at their publicly listed telephone number. You can usually find contact information on their web site. (Geek Squad’s number is 1-800-433-5778)
  • Never provide a credit card or banking account information to someone on a cold call, even if they claim to be from a computer support company.
  • Never give remote access to your computer to any technician unless they can confirm they are a legitimate member of a computer support company with which you have an existing support agreement.

If you’ve been a victimized by a phone scammer:

  • Contact your credit card or bank and speak with the fraud prevention team to have the charges reversed and the account protected from future charges.
  • Change your computer password, along with the password of any online accounts that may have been provided to the cybercriminal. Before changing the password, you might want to read the article on our website about creating a secure password.
  • Update your security software and run a full scan on your computer, or use one of our tools to scan your machine. You may also want to contact one of our Geek Squad Online Support Agents to have the PC checked for malware.
  • Report the scam to the FTC to help alert other potential victims.

Phone scams are successful because cybercriminals rely on computer users trusting an unknown person with access to their computers. Together, we can defeat these scams by simply hanging up when you receive an unrequested support call, regardless of who they say they are.

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.

Tracking the National Bike Challenge

Is the warm weather of spring making you yearn to play outside? Yes, even Agents have to stand up from the keyboard and go to get some sun every so often. And, for me, one of the best ways to play outside is to ride my bike. I’m so inspired this spring that I will be participating in the National Bike Challenge, a program that encourages everyone to track their biking miles over the summer as a way to encourage the use of their two-wheelers.

The Challenge runs from May 1 through September 30. Participants register on the National Bike Challenge website, where they log in to record their bike rides and are awarded points for every day they ride and every mile they pedal. Everyone who registers and participates qualifies for the monthly prize drawing. Then, at the end of the challenge, participants who finished at the top of their category will qualify for additional prizes.

While you can manually track and enter your daily or weekly rides, I’m an Agent so I dug around looking for a tech approach that would make all this easier. The solutions I found not only make it easier to submit your miles, but also provide you with a wealth of other activity information you can use to pursue your health and wellness goals.

If you have a smartphone, you already have the basic hardware needed to track your ride. Several apps are available on the Android, iOS and Windows platforms to help track rides. Four apps in particular have the ability to directly sync your riding activity to the National Bike Challenge website once you setup your account: Strava, Endomondo, MapMyRide and Moves.

Most of these apps will have both free and paid versions. For new riders, the free service will use your phone’s GPS to track your ride and give you helpful information such as the total distance traveled, average speed, elapsed time and even calories consumed. Syncing with the National Bike Challenge site is included.

Paid subscriptions to those apps usually include more in-depth information for advanced riders looking to improve their rides, including segment information and the ability to record heart rate information from Bluetooth monitors like the Polar H7.

If you are looking for more information than what is available on your smartphone, there are bicycle-specific devices available. Cycling GPS units attach to a bicycle with sensors that can track speed, distance and cadence, making the data available through an easy-to-read display on your handlebars. Units like the Magellan Cyclo 315 or Garmin Edge Touring use GPS to not only track your ride, but also provide directions on pre-loaded routes. Some models include the ability to pair with a Bluetooth or ANT+ heart rate monitor.

GPS watches, like the TomTom MultiSport with Heart Rate Monitor or Garmin Vivoactive can be used across a number of sports. Their small form factor makes them a great choice for those who run as well as ride.

Another great feature of any of the services used to sync to the National Bike Challenge site is their ability to share your progress with others. Most have their own community aspects, allowing you to follow (and challenge) friends, as well as share your progress with your favorite social media sites like Twitter or Facebook. Even within the National Bike Challenge site, you can create both local and national teams for schools, organizations or work. (Even Best Buy has a team).

However you track your ride, the end goal is to get out and be more active. I’ll be out there with you and my fellow Geek Squad Agents adding our miles to the totals. Good luck and be safe out there. Don’t forget your helmet.

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.

Our First Computer Programmers

The role of women in the world of technology has been all over the news lately. First there was Gamergate (women gamers and game designers being subjected to graphic insults by Internet trolls), then questions about how women are treated in the boardroom (the Ellen Pao lawsuit), and the steady stream of stories about the struggles of women trying to get recognition in the highly-competitive tech world.

Women have a tough time breaking into traditionally male strongholds. But, as just about any female police officer will tell you, the barriers have more to do with perception than ability. One of the things I learned participating in our Geek Squad Academy camps is girls can understand technology as well as boys and, when given the chance, will develop and deliver amazing tech products.

Which got me thinking about a story about the first computer programmers a professor of mine told me in college. Toward the end of World War II, the Army was looking for a more efficient way to calculate artillery-firing tables for different weapons fired under different conditions. At the time, these complicated calculations were done by hand – a time-consuming, laborious process. It appears that the leadership of the Ballistics Research Laboratory, the branch of the Army Ordinance Corps responsible for the calculations, heard about a couple University of Pennsylvania faculty members who were working on something that could speed up the process. The professors – John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert – had been creating more advanced mechanical calculating machines and were experimenting with using vacuum tubes to speed up the calculations. Mauchly and Eckert proposed a project in which they would design and build a machine that could perform calculations one thousand times faster than existing calculating machines.

The Electrical Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) took about a year to design and another eighteen months to build. Although the war was over before the ENIAC was ready, this first general-purpose electronic computer was used extensively in the design of the hydrogen bomb, weather prediction and wind-tunnel design.

The names of Mauchly and Eckert are well known in the computer field. What is less well known is none of this would have been possible without the dedication of group of young mathematicians who became the first computer programmers. And, while the machine’s designers and builders were recognized for their work, the contributions of these first programmers have been pretty much ignored. Considering the way gender roles were handled in the workplace in those days, overlooking the programmers is not that surprising, All the ENIAC designers and builders were men. All the programmers were women.

During the war, nearly two hundred women, both civilian and military, performed calculations for the Army’s Ballistic Research Laboratory. Six of these “computers” were selected to program this new, gigantic machine. The ENIAC programmers – Jean Bartik, Betty Snyder, Kay McNulty, Marlyn Wescoff, Ruth Lichterman and Fran Bilas– began their work while the ENIAC was still being built. Since the engineers were too busy with the hardware to put together any programming manuals or hold classes, the programmers taught themselves. Figuring out how ENIAC worked by reviewing logic and electrical block diagrams, they put together an approach to programming it. Using flow charts and programming sheets they created, they wrote the program that ran the machine.

With this early electronic computer, writing the program was the easy part. Because the program was not stored on the machine, it had to be set up on ENIAC’s 40 plugboards and three “portable functional tables.” Each of the functional tables contained 1,200 ten-way switches. The programmers set up the machine by plugging wires into the plugboards and setting the functional switches in specific arrangements designed to let the calculations cascade through the computer. Setting the program usually took several days and many more days were spent in testing.

As we struggle to get women and girls more involved in technology and science, this story of the first computer programmers is important. Kathy Kleiman, a young programmer struggling with the lack of women in her computer science classes, stumbled across an old picture of the ENIAC in one of the stacks of her college library. When she asked about the women in the picture, Kleiman was told they were “models.”

Women working on ENIAC

As her interest in ENIAC grew, she discovered the women in the picture were the original programmers of the machine, not models. This inspired her to write her senior thesis at Harvard on the ENIAC Programmers and go on to found a non-profit dedicated to publicizing the contributions of these original programmers. Her efforts resulted in a documentary film called “The Computers” which premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival in May, 2014.

I look forward to seeing the movie about these incredible women when it comes to a theater in my area. For information about screenings, visit the ENIAC Programmers Project website.

Agent Tanya B. has been a woman of technology since 2009. When she steps away from her role maintaining the Geeksquad.com website, Tanya is either at the gym, walking her dog, or gaming with the other Agent B. Having moved to corporate from Florida last spring, she’s trying really hard to not complain about the cold too much.

Tax Filing Software: A New Security Issue

Filing your tax return electronically is one of the great advantages of today’s connected world. In addition to saving you time by transmitting your information to the IRS using the Internet, these sites walk you through the process, asking questions that might help you find tax benefits you are missing. Which can result in a larger refund. They also perform all the calculations, eliminating those pesky addition and subtraction errors that can delay processing your return. So it’s a bit scary to hear news about criminals committing tax-related identity theft to steal your money by filing a return in your name and having your refund sent to them before you have a chance to file.

According to media reports, fraudsters are not targeting the technology backbone of these tax software companies. In most cases, the criminals use social engineering to get the victims’ social security number and other personal information, guess their tax-preparation site password, or convince them to give up information that will allow the fraudsters to file a return in the victim’s name.

To help protect yourself from this type of identity theft, it’s important to carefully guard your Social Security number. Avoid carrying your Social Security card (or other documents that might have your SSN on it) around when you don’t have to. Avoid giving your SSN to a business or organization just because they ask for it. Most non-governmental organizations don’t really need it. Many will ask for the last four digits of your Social Security number to confirm your identity. If you are talking with a person who is not a government representative, even if you called them, don’t give them your full SSN. In general, we advise clients to never give out their personal information to anyone over the phone, via email or on a website unless they can confirm the identity of the person who is asking for that information and the client initiated the contact.

To protect your tax-preparation software accounts, make sure you are using a secure account password. Keep in mind that easy-to-remember passwords are also easy to guess. We have an article on creating a secure password on our main website that has a lot of tips on creating a quality password. Or you might consider a password manager like LastPass or Dashlane to keep unique passwords safe, but accessible.

Next, make sure you’re not setting up any easy-to-guess forgotten password security questions. For example, a scammer could find the answer to “Where did you go to high school?” by visiting your Facebook page and other social media profiles or content streams. Make sure to choose those forgotten password questions that are not available in those kind of places.

And we can’t say this enough – always practice safe online browsing habits, like not clicking on email attachments or opening downloads from sources you cannot clearly identify and trust. Keep your operating system, software and antivirus suites up-to-date. Malicious software like viruses or spyware on your system are often spread to capture user ID and passwords.

If you think your system may be infected by malicious software, connect to our 24/7 online support team to have your system checked, or run a malware scan using the free System Analyzer tool available for download from our site.

For more information on keeping your tax information safe, visit the FTC and IRS page on tax-related identity theft.

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.