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Thursday, March 6, 2014

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Google Does "Takeout":
Your Data is Now Easier to Download

By Agent Ron G.

Google – owners of the the most popular website in the world (according to Alexa) – has never been satisfied being just the primary search engine to the Web. Between mapping the Earth through Google Maps and attempting to make everyone a data input via Google Glass, Larry Page and Sergey Brin have converted Google into one of the main forces driving innovation in the world.

 

Nowadays, Google looks like a company moving beyond it’s original mission of managing the internet’s data. With the development of their free software services (Gmail, Google Calendar, Blogger, etc.), Google has revolutionized the way people interact online. Their light, mobile-friendly applications provide standard tools anyone can use to write documents, share pictures, schedule appointments and stay in touch. As computing becomes more mobile, the availability of small, standardized cloud-based applications will become even more important to the public – and Google seems well-positioned in this regard.

However… there is also the issue of portability. A serious criticism of free software programs is this: many of them are proprietary and files generated by these tools often can only be read and edited by that tool. Worse yet, many web-based apps don’t allow users direct access to their own data. (For some of us, that’s kinda hard to live with.) I don’t feel good unless I know where my data is and can manipulate it as I see fit.

This was originally true of many of the Google Data Tools. But then a group of Google developers banded together to form “The Data Liberation Front” and that all changed.

Beginning in June 2009, Google began making data generated by their applications available for download by account users. The “Google Takeout” project was started as a way to give Google users the control over their data they wanted. They started by making available data from Google Buzz, Google Contacts, Google Streams and Picasa Albums. The project shortly added Google Plus and Google Voice to the list of available data. Over the next two years, data from other Google applications was added based on user request.

But it wasn’t until December 2013 that the project was able to make available arguably their most popular and most sensitive data – messages from Gmail accounts. (Seriously, who doesn’t have a gmail account by now?) Now, your emails are no longer stuck on the Google servers.

At this time, the Takeout project supports 14 Google products, ranging from documents stored on Google Drive to events you are tracking on your Google Calendar. Takeout allows users to select the data they would like to have by application, converts it into a single ZIP file and makes it available for download through the user’s Google account.

To find out more, visit the Google Takeout page here.

Agent Ron G. has been battling the forces of unruly technology run amok since 2001, prior to Geek Squad’s acquisition of Best Buy. When not busy creating video & technical training content for Geek Squad Agents in the field, Agent Ron enjoys home brewing, international travel, sketch writing, and learning how to cook new cuisines.

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Categories: Computing | How To | News and Events

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Friday, February 28, 2014

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Phished In! (How to Avoid Being Hooked By a Phishing Scam)

By Agent Patrick B.

Has this ever happened to you? You open an “official-looking” email that looks like it’s from your bank, credit card, etc. The message is dire — someone may be messing around with your account, and only clicking on a link to “correct” or “verify” your account information will save you. Hurry! Quick! Do it now! Without even thinking about it, fear of loss drives you to click on the link and supply the information requested (and breaking one of the cardinal rules of online security in the process).

SNAP! You’ve just been reeled in… by a phishing scam. (Don’t feel too bad… lots of smart people fall for the same thing all of the time.) Why?

Phishing scammers — people attempting to harvest your valuable, private information (like passwords or credit card information) by posing as trustworthy organizations or businesses – are all over the Internet. Everyone with an email account has probably seen a phishing email, which often looks uncannily like something from your bank, company, etc. Common to all of them is an inciting message — something requires your action NOW, or there will be problems.

The good news is that, although some phishing scams create pretty convincing email layouts, there are usually clues that you can find that all is not right with their request. We recently ran across a blog post on CNET that discusses ways to tell if an email is part of a phishing scam. It’s got some really good tips in it to help you avoid falling victim to these scams. Take a look at it here:

Spot a Phishing Email in 2014

One of the keys to keeping your identity safe online is to never give up your information easily. In the fast-paced rhythm of today’s world, is easy to rush from one task to the next without much thought. Fraudsters running phishing scams rely on that — distracted users are easy targets.

Phishing relies on people’s predilection toward following rules, and being helpful and cooperative. Online hustlers are skilled social engineers, manipulating people to turn their natural tendencies and good intentions into profit. So, when responding to a “your data has been stolen” or “click here for a prize” email, remember to slow down and ask yourself one question – why do they need it? Legitimate outfits won’t ask you for information they already have, so any such request is a dead giveaway that something isn’t right.

Be careful if an email offers an easy fix to your information being compromised. If a legitimate organization had their customer database compromised, they will be very careful about reestablishing contact with customers. They will also go out of their way to assure you that they are who they say they are, and will take care to protect your information — and definitely will not deploy a one-click solution to this problem.

For more on phishing and online scams, check out some of our recent blog posts:

Phone Scams and Computer Repair: Know Your Facts to Protect Your Computer

Online Shopping During the Holidays, Part 1: Let’s Be Safe Out There

Online Shopping During the Holidays, Part 2: Scamming in the Wireless World

Agent Patrick B. has been an Agent with the Geek Squad since 2005. When he isn’t overseeing the Geek Squad Web and Social Media presence, he can be found wandering the streets of Minneapolis in search of a fresh source of caffeine to fuel his all night gaming sessions.

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Categories: Computing | Data | How To | Security Threat Alert

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

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Routers & Malware: No Longer Just Your Computer That's Vulnerable

By Agent Williams

Warning: it isn’t just your computer at risk from hackers. Some recently discovered issues with wireless routers from two different companies show that they too can be vulnerable to hacker exploits that can leave your data exposed to online evildoers. In one case, the affected routers allowed hackers to access data on the victim’s network, while in the other the router was used to distribute a self-replicating worm onto other users’ networks.

Users of Asus RT routers have reported that a router flaw allows hackers access to data on external USB hard drives attached to the router. Although some security experts believe that only users who have turned on the https service (part of the router’s AICloud feature) were affected, some users have reported their systems were compromised even though they never enabled that feature.

The best way to secure these potentially hackable routers is to update the router’s firmware, make sure all default passwords have been changed, and deactivate any remote access options. For more details on this, check out the excellent article about the situation on ARS Technica.

Dear Asus Router User: You’ve Been Pwned, Thanks to Easily Exploited Flaw (Ars Technica)

Security experts have also identified activity online indicating a persistent attack on networks using Linksys routers, particularly those of the Linksys E series. The attack involves the distribution of malware designed to seek out and hijack other networks connected to the Internet by vulnerable devices. Although experts have not been able to identify the purpose of the attack, it is consuming significant bandwidth in specific IP ranges. Some speculate the attackers may be testing their ability to assemble a botnet (a network of compromised computers) that could exploit the Linksys router vulnerability.

Observers say simply restarting the router appears to remove the malware. However, this does not prevent the router from being reinfected. It appears that routers using updated firmware do not become infected, so it is suspected that the vulnerablity must be part of earlier versions of the firmware. Users with Linksys routers in the E series should go to the Linksys website and look for the 2.1 version of the software.

For more on this router-based vulnerability, check out this detailed article on ARS Technica:

Bizarre Attack Infects Linksys Routers With Self-Replicating Malware (Ars Technica)

If you think your system may have been compromised, we offer a Virus and Spyware Removal Service online, on-site and at Precincts in Best Buy stores.

Agent Williams joined the ranks of Geek Squad in 2007, earning the badge number #13337 and the alias “Agent Leeet Sauce”. Now Agent Williams protects the internetz from the Geek Squad Magic Castle. When he’s not policing unruly technology (or eating cookies) he can be found making music, chasing down his badge (it’s been on a trip to the stratosphere) or riding his imaginary pet unicorn.

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Categories: Computing | Data | Security Threat Alert | Wireless Networking

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Monday, February 17, 2014

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Digital Learning Day Expo 2014: Geek Squad Academy Shares Game Programming Curriculum

By Agent Tanya B.

On February 4th, the Libary of Congress in Washington DC hosted the Digital Learning Day Expo, a conference promoting digital learning and technology education in the classroom. Geek Squad was there, presenting on the Game Programming class taught at our Geek Squad Academy camps.

This curriculum is extremely popular with the kids, and is a good way of engaging kids and teaching the kind of decision-making and experimentation behind successful digital creation. Using Geek Squad-created content and the Stencyl game creation software,  the class helps students develop the programming and problem-solving skills needed to fix errors intentionally introduced in our “Gopher Roman” game. The students fully engage in in the computer programming process, manipulating characters, environments, backgrounds and behaviors as they learn to solve problems they find in the game.

Stencyl is a great vehicle for introducing programming to younger audiences. Because it is a drag-and-drop tool that reduces computer coding to actions, students intuitively grasp the concepts as they work with the software, and are able to edit parameters and rearrange activity blocks much the way computer programmers do without having to learn complex programming languages.

Geek Squad Agent Travis Sellers and Best Buy Blue Shirt Kelsi Facsina ran a demo of the Gopher Roman program in the Best Buy booth at the Expo, showing educators and other attendees how the tool can be used to draw students into the programming process.

The Geek Squad Academy project team would like to thank everyone involved in this event, particularly the Alliance for Excellent Education, our partner in this effort. If you are a teacher, the Digital Learning Day website features Lesson Plans you can use to help your students understand and use technology more effectively. (The site also has a link to Best Buy’s Teen Tech Toolkit, which includes the Game Programming lesson plan.)

For more on the importance of computer science education in elementary and secondary schools, check out this story National Public Radio did as part of their All Tech Considered series.

A Push to Boost Computer Science Learning, Even at an Early Age

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.

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Categories: Computing | Culture | How To

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

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Valentine’s Day and Long-Distance Relationships: Skype to the Rescue!

By Agent Tanya B.

Long distance relationships (LDRs) are not for the faint of heart. The late-night phone calls, frantic searching for low-cost airfares, the random text messages in the middle of the day, the joyous reunions and sad separations can take a lot out of a person. No matter how strong the connection between you and your loved one is, the miles between you can take their toll. Sometimes all you want to do is see his or her face.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, most of us are more concerned with “did I get the right gift?” (Answer: Chocolate and flowers are usually a winning combo.) But for those of us who have been in an LDR before, we know that the greatest gift is being able to be with your significant other — and when that’s not physically possible, we turn (as always) to technology for a fix.

One of the greatest things about technology and the Internet is that — together – they can bridge the gap between people separated by vast distances. The ability of modern hardware and network infrastructures enable us to stream clean, non-jerky two-way video & audio in real time is a glorious thing: so, if you can’t be with the one you love on the special day, at least you can still connect with each other via services like Skype.

Speaking of Skype, a few years back Agent Alex starred in one of our “Two Minute Miracle” videos on how to set up Skype on your computer. Check out the video on our site here:

Skype Setup: 2 Minute Miracles

If you have trouble getting this to work, Agents are standing by to help. Chat with one here.

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.

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Categories: Computing | Data | Home Remedies | How To | Two Minute Miracles

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Friday, January 31, 2014

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Seriously: Companies Cannot Scan Your Computer Unless You Let Them

By Agent Ron G.

Last summer, Agent Derek M wrote a post for this blog on a popular “infected computer” phone scam. It turns out that there’s a new, more costly twist on this con. Because this new twist is dangerous and more costly to remediate, we thought we would reach out and reiterate some of the points Derek made in his post on the subject last June.

But first, the new twist on the “infected-computer-call” scam.

In this retread of the classic computer phone scam, the caller talks the victim into giving them online access to their computer, making it appear as though the computer is “infected”. Once they have access, the scammer uses their remote access to encrypt the machine, locking the victim out of their computer if they refuse to pay to have it “fixed.”

Our Agents have discovered a way to unlock the computer, but it’s rather complicated and would require affected clients to get a Virus and Spyware Removal service. Not that we mind doing it, but we’d like to give people a heads-up warning on this, to help you avoid being their next victim.

There are some things you should consider if someone calls you asking for access to your computer:

  1. No reputable computer company will call you on the phone to tell you that your machine is infected. This is simply not the way virus protection works. If someone ever calls with this message, just hang up — they are just trying to scare you into making a bad decision.
  2. No matter how professional they sound, never give someone who calls you “out-of-the-blue” access to your computer. No legitimate organization – not your Internet Service Provider, software creator or hardware manufacturer – can access your computer without your permission. So anyone who says they have been scanning your computer and think it has a virus iks not telling the truth. It takes the same level of access to live scan a computer as it does to actively manipulate a machine using online access.
  3. Never – and we mean NEVER – give your bank account information to someone who cold-called you. You are asking for trouble. If the call seems valid – whether it’s from a charity, financial institution or someone offering tech support services – tell the person you will call them back. And don’t use the “special number” they give you – that could easily be a setup. Go to the company or organization’s web site and look for the telephone number there. If it’s a legitimate call, they won’t mind you calling back. If the person argues with you at all about this, hang up.

Again, this is basically the same scam as Derek discussed in his earlier post, but this version is more expensive to fix and more damaging.

Derek did a post a couple of weeks ago about a phone scam the Federal Trade Commission was warning people about. You may want to take a look at it if you missed it:

Computer-Related Phone Scams: How to Spot Them, What To Do If Affected

Agent Ron G. has been battling the forces of unruly technology run amok since 2001, prior to Geek Squad’s acquisition of Best Buy. When not busy creating video & technical training content for Geek Squad Agents in the field, Agent Ron enjoys home brewing, international travel, sketch writing, and learning how to cook new cuisines.

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Categories: Computing | Security Threat Alert

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Monday, January 27, 2014

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Macintosh at 30

By Agent Ryan S.

The computing world changed 30 years ago. It was on January 24, 1984 that Steve Jobs stood before workers and the press at the Apple Cupertino, CA headquaters and unveiled their newest product – the Macintosh personal computer.

Those of us of a certain age remember the stylistic “1984″ Super Bowl commercial the company used to draw attention to the launch of its new computer. It’s easy to forget how revolutionary that first Mac was. Before then, computer were controlled through command lines and text, making them somewhat exclusive and raising a significant hurdle for the average user to get over. You turned the computer on and were greeted with a blinking cursor. (You either knew what to do with it or you didn’t.)

There was no figuring your way through that — you were either a member of the computing club or you weren’t. The Macintosh was the first machine to use a graphical user interface (GUI) – small, images that represented data and functionality that could be accessed through the machine. The GUI is such a ubiquitous part of the modern world these day (used on our phones, our televisions and even our gas pumps) that it’s hard to imagine going through a day without it. But it was that original Mac that first introduced it to the world.

The other feature the first Mac brought to the public was the mouse – little plastic thingee connected to the keyboard you could use to move across the screen, rearrange items and activate those little pictures to get the machine to do your bidding. Although the mouse was part of Apple’s Lisa computer, it was the Mac that made it the tool that it is today. The mouse was, in many ways, one of the two or three most important hardware innovations that made the personal computing revolutions possible. It gave users the ability to break out of the linear navigation schemes computers had required to that point, and was key to making tapping in to the power of the machine more intuitive and accessible to the average person.

Apple has a very good piece on their website about the 30 years of Macintosh. It is a very interesting look at the evolution of the devices that have become so much a part of our everyday lives. Check out the Mac 30 content here.

Agent Ryan S. (Badge #23) has been with the Geek Squad for 16 years, and was fixing Macs before they were cool. (Remember those old monochrome displays? Ryan does.) Oh, and the plot of the Matrix is based on a service call he went on in 1997.

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Categories: Computing | News and Events

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

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Browser Cookies: Friend or Foe?

By Agent Williams

As a kid, few things could bring a smile to my face faster than cookies. My mother would always find me more cooperative for unpleasant tasks if she if she ended the request with “then I’ll bake cookies.” In my book, cookies are definitely good things.

But what about web browser cookies?

 

One of the things most Geek Squad Agents learn shortly after joining is you are now “a target” — for family, friends, neighbors, even completely strangers in need of “free”  technical support.  “Hey, you work for the Geek Squad now, right? Well, I’ve got this problem…” (Comes with the uniform, I guess.)

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from friends and family about browser cookies. Should I block cookies from my browser? Cookies carry viruses, right? My computer can be taken over by someone else using cookies, right?

The short answer is no, cookies aren’t necessarily bad. In fact, a lot of the things you do on the Web wouldn’t be possible without cookies. “Cookies” are basically little bits of code that a website uses to maintain a session with your browser. It is the browser cookie that makes it possible for you to personalize your Web experience. Without them, you wouldn’t be able set up accounts, shop, bank or any of the more complex activities we all take for granted as part of our browsing experience.

I came across this excellent article about cookies from our friends over at Lifehacker. It’s very informative, and helps clears up some of the popular misconceptions about these little bits of codes (with such a delicious name).

Fact and Fiction: The Truth About Browser Cookies

Agent Williams joined the ranks of Geek Squad in 2007, earning the badge number #13337 and the alias “Agent Leeet Sauce”. Now Agent Williams protects the internetz from the Geek Squad Magic Castle. When he’s not policing unruly technology (or eating cookies) he can be found making music, chasing down his badge (it’s been on a trip to the stratosphere) or riding his imaginary pet unicorn.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

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Data Backup: Moving Files Without Losing Them

By Agent Tanya B.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post encouraging everyone to make backing up their data their New Years’ resolution. As I was reviewing the different ways to create data backups, it struck me how many devices we use on a daily basis now create and store digital files.

 

 

Sure, you want to hang onto those work-related spreadsheets you created on your home laptop, but you probably also want to back up the podcasts you loaded onto our phone, those games you downloaded to our gaming console, some of the books on your e-reader, and the video of that lecture you took on our tablet. (Then, of course, there are the pics of little Johnny’s birthday party on your camera.)

Yeah, I still use a camera — and I know I’m not the only one. In fact, recovering lost photos is an extremely common request we get at Geek Squad Precincts. For those of you who take pictures with something besides a phone, we have a couple of Tech Tips to help you transfer your photos onto your computer:

Transfer Photos to a Mac

Connecting Your Digital Camera to Your PC

With all those digital files floating around, it’s likely that you will want to transfer them between devices at some point. In my post about backing up data, I mentioned a best practice of putting all your files in one place, and then pointing your backup software at that location. Whether you are using a local backup location or storing data in the cloud, it’s one of the most efficient means of getting the most current copies of your files backed up in one place. This lets your software check the dates of the files you want to back up and copy over only the ones that have been changed since the previous back up, cutting down on unneeded processsing.

Another reason you might want to transfer files is because you are lucky enough to have gotten a brand new computer, and would like to move everything from your old machine to your new one. It is usually tough enough to get your software installed on your new machine – having a roadmap to help you transfer files between the machines will have you up and computing sooner.

How to Transfer Files from PC to PC
How to Migrate Your Data From an Old Computer to a New One
How to Transfer Data From Your Old Computer to Windows 8

Once you get your all your files onto your new machine, it’s a good idea to wipe the old computer’s hard drive. Here’s a “2 Minute Miracle” video to help you through that process:

Hard Drive Wipe

Of course, if this seems a bit much or your run into trouble moving data between devices, we can help. It is what we do, after all.

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.

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Categories: Data | How To | iPhone | iPod | Laptop | Smartphone | Tablet | XBox 360

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

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Computer-Related Phone Scams: How to Spot Them, What to Do If Affected

By Agent Derek M

If experience has taught us anything, it’s that computer-related scammers are persistent. By the time law enforcement catches on and alerts the public, the con-artists are already on to their latest scheme to separate you from your hard-earned cash.

 

Today’s connected world provides us with multiple ways to interact with others. Social media platforms, text messages, websites – even good ol’ email provide fraudsters with a variety of avenues to identify their next victim. That level of sophistication makes this latest scam look like a bit of a throwback – rather than using scary looking pop-up windows or threatening text messages – it involves contacting the victim by phone.

Yeah, I know… weird…

The scammers call potential victims and say that, if the person answering the phone has ever paid for tech support services, they may be able to get a refund. We are a bit sensitive about this (being in the tech support business and all), and suggest you take a look at the post about it on the FTC’s blog:

Tech Support Scams: Part 2

While we are on phone scams, I did a blog post last July about a different kind of phone scam. You might want to take a look at that one while you’re at it:

Phone Scams and Computer Repair: Know Your Facts to Protect Your Computer

Often, the best way to defend oneself from scams (without veering into tin-foil hat territory) is to scan the top security blogs (Sophos’ Naked Security blog, Microsoft’s Malware Protection Center and Krebs on Security, among others) to get a sense of what’s trending. Another helpful tip: be very careful who you give your financial information to (and NEVER through email or by phone). No matter how legitimate they seem, if they ask for your bank account number, it’s a red flag. (That’s the way a lot of scams play out.) It pays to be skeptical.

If you ever find yourself a victim of a scam like this one, the first thing you should do is call your bank and suspend activity on the account affected. Then you should contact the local authorities, or file a complaint with the FTC at their website.

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 highways.

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Categories: Data | News and Events | Security Threat Alert | Technology

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