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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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Categories: Technology

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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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Monday, January 6, 2014

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What a PUP Is — and Why You Should Not Pet One

By Agent Derek M

Our Agents are finding that clients we serve have become more savvy web users and have generally gotten better at avoiding malware like viruses and spyware in their travels down the Information Superhighway. But many clients still come to us asking why their system has slowed down without their antivirus program detecting any new malware infections.

We have found that in most these cases, the culprit is adware and other Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs). Most PUPs are system add-ons, like extra toolbars and advertising plug-ins for your web browser. Many antivirus programs won’t automatically block PUPs because they are often legitimately installed by a user when installing other free software. Also, it’s sometimes difficult to determine if an add-on is really unwanted. For example, you may want that browser toolbar for your webmail program. But if you download several “free” programs and they all install their own toolbars, it becomes a problem.

Here are 3 rules for helping to ensure that programs you’re installing aren’t putting PUPs on your computer:

1. Go to the Source! Download programs from the software maker’s official site whenever possible. One PUP installation technique is to wrap a popular program in an unauthorized installer app that will install malware, adware, unneeded toolbars, and other extra items along with the original program.

2. Slow Down! When you’re installing a program, don’t rush to hit the “NEXT” button. Take the time to read each screen to help ensure that you’re not agreeing to unwanted add-ons hidden in the terms and conditions or information screens. Some of these unwanted programs are tricky, and are hidden in an “Agree” button during the install.

3. Uncheck Those Checks! Now that you’re taking the time to read each installer screen, look for any checkmarks next to toolbars and other add-ons that you can uncheck. This will reduce the unwanted add-ons that tag along with the install.

If you do find your system running slowly and are having issues like slow web browsing with lots of pop-ups or misdirected websites, it’s possible that your computer – though virus-free – could benefit from a Computer Tune-Up service to clear out the add-on clutter. Get 24/7 remote support with your computer by chatting with an Agent here.

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: Computing | How To | Spyware

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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

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The One New Year's Resolution

By Agent Tanya B.

It’s that time of the year again – time to take a good hard look at yourself and resolve to be better next year. And yes, time for magazines, TV news shows and blogs to suggest a New Year’s resolution for you. Yeah, irritating, we know. But this is one you should pay attention too. It’s not that hard and could save you a lot of grief when the inevitable happens.

Back up your digital data.

It’s easy to become complacent when it comes to retaining data on modern devices. They make storing documents, pictures, video and audio so easy that once you hit the “Save” command, most of us just assume the data will always be there. But any Agent will tell you, we are all one spilled cup of coffee or dropped laptop away from a damaged drive and lost data. Oh sure – drives can be brought back from the dead. But not all of them. And it can be an expensive process. With just a little regular maintenance, you can avoid losing those pictures from your daughter’s birthday party and those spreadsheets that are helping you finally make sense of your financial situation.

The first thing I usually suggest to clients is to get all your data to one place. Download the pics and audio from your phone onto your laptop. Pull everything from your tablet onto your laptop. Getting everything in one place will make backing up the data much simpler.

Now comes the actual backing up part. Here are some links to resources to help you get started.

Here’s an excellent article from PC World magazine about backing up your computer.
The Absurdly Simple Guide to Backing Up Your PC

Cloud services can be a great storage location for your backed up files. Here’s an a blog post that summarizes and explains cloud data storage.
Look! In the Cloud (It’s Your Data)

To take a step back and get a sense of how digital storage works, here’s a post that links to a series of articles that gives a good overview of the process.
Where Did That File Go? (Digital Storage Basics)

To check on how you’ve done on past resolutions, here are some old blog posts. It’s okay, nobody’s perfect…

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 | How To | iPhone | Laptop | Smartphone | Tablet | Technology

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Friday, December 27, 2013

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Get the Right Start With Your New Phone

By Agent Derek M

Getting a new phone is fun. Whether you bought it for yourself or it was given to you by a loved one, firing up a new handset is one of the true joys of our wireless world. At some point, all phones seem restrictive after you use them for a while. A brand new phone frees you to get some new wallpapers, better ringtones and those cool apps your old device couldn’t handle. Then, of course, there is the wonderful new phone smell…

But hold on there a sec. Sometimes, in the excitement of getting a new phone going, it’s easy to forget some basic set up behaviors that could save some heartache in the future. We run into this at Precincts all the time – clients come to us with phones that aren’t behaving properly and we see they are loaded down with apps but lack the basic security and settings management. Taking the time to walk through all your settings and make sure your new device is properly secure is time well spent. Yeah, it’s not as much fun as downloading that game that never worked right on your old phone, but you’ll thank us later.

There is an excellent article by Jessica Dolcourt in the How To section of the Cnet.com site in which she lays out the basic first steps everyone should take when they set up a new phone. Great stuff. Take a look and follow her suggestions before you download another app.

Six Thing Every New Phone Owner Should Do First

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: iPhone | Smartphone | Technology

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Monday, December 23, 2013

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Last Minute Tech Gift Ideas

By Agent Tanya B.

So, you’ve done it again. You waited until the eleventh hour to take care of those hard gift decisions. Yeah, you figured something would jump out of some TV or online ad, it would be the perfect thing and your problems would be solved. No such luck.

Agent Kate B. was recently interviewed by the folks at KION TV in Monterey, CA and KCOY of the Central Coast of California about what’s hot in tech gifts this year and suggestions for gifts under $50. She gave a nice breakdown – tablets are hot, tablet, phone and camera accessories make good gifts under $50, as do electric razors, small kitchen appliances, and video games. A bit of last minute shopping advice we thought might be useful, so here’s a link to the interview:

Tech Smart Interview with Kate Burroughs
http://youtu.be/Ejt8_MhjP_k

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: Home Remedies | News and Events

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Friday, December 20, 2013

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Travelling With Your Tech

By Agent Williams

Like people all over the world, we Agents often find ourselves travelling to get together with our friends and family over the holidays. And, being more tech-dependent than the average citizen, one of our main concerns is what combination of devices and accessories will we be able to take with us. Sure, Agents travelling over-land can error on the side of caution and fill up the backseat with extra batteries and cables. But those of us who need to grab our boarding passes and stand in the airport security line have decisions to make. Considering that we generally think tech belongs in carry on luggage, weight also becomes an issue.

As the travel season approaches, there are some lively debates in the breakroom about how many screens a person really needs access to over a long holiday weekend. There is nothing worse than grabbing the wrong charger when you are heading out the door. It’s easy to pack enough underwear – making sure you have sufficient storage media is another story.

I ran across an article on TechHive with some excellent advice on packing tech for travel. It’s going to help me when I get ready to head out to the airport – hope it’s useful to you too.

Travel Tips: What You Can’t Leave Behind

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 he can be found making music or riding his imaginary pet unicorn.

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Categories: Computing | Home Remedies | How To | iPhone | iPod | Laptop | Smartphone | Tablet

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

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

By Agent Tanya B.

With the increasing use of Wi-Fi technology and the adoption of social media tools at all levels, we are starting to see some new scams and pirating techniques. Be aware of the following when you are transacting business online.

 

Fake hotspots

In the wireless world, web access is something we all take for granted. Our tablets and smartphones are able to find available wireless networks so easily that we can get lulled into a false sense of security. One of the dangers of connecting to a public wireless network is that it might be set up solely to give some scammer access to your computer.

It is fairly easy for a criminal to use a laptop to broadcast a fake Wi-Fi hotspot masquerading as the access zone of a coffee shop or the login page of a popular wireless service provider like Verizon or AT&T. Once an unsuspecting user is connected to this hotspot, the criminal can mine the user’s computer for banking, credit card or password information. Fake hotspots are a growing concern for wireless users, especially in busy public spaces like airports, coffee shops and libraries.

The best way to avoid being a victim of one of these wireless scams is to make sure your device is not set to connect automatically to non-preferred networks. That way, you’ll see a list of available networks when you boot up your computer and be able to choose a legitimate one (if one is available). If you have any questions about which is the right network, check with someone who works at the location you are logging in from.  Also, avoid doing any banking or shopping on public Wi-Fi networks. If you absolutely must, make sure the network is secure.

Links in messages

Most of us have learned to be careful about clicking on a link sent to us via email. With the growing popularity of social media platforms, email is no longer the only way for our friends and colleagues to send us messages. Facebook instant messages, Instagram “likes,” and “tweets” on Twitter allow us to interact with others in new, convenient and immediate ways.

Unfortunately, the scammers are on social media too — and they use it to distribute “bots” to take over users’ computers in order to send spam email. How do bots get on your computer? Well, remember that irresistable link you clicked on the other day? Yep, that’s the culprit. Because messaging on social media platforms is so instantaneous and mobile, many of us don’t think before we click.

Treat links in tweets and Facebook instant messages the same way you would treat a link in an email. The URL-shortening services that let Twitter users share links give the bad guys the opportunity to hide their original URL, making it even harder to identify malicious addresses. If you get a tweet with what looks like an interesting link for a “free iPad” or some other unbelievable offer, go check the profile of the person who sent it out. If that person is following thousands of people and no one is following them, it’s a bot.

You should always be careful with links in Facebook messages. We’ve all had FB friends who have had their accounts hacked. Treat links in instant messages the same way you treat links in emails – confirm the source and make sure the link is safe.

Banks don’t send texts

Speaking of instantaneous messaging, text messages are increasingly used by fraudsters to gain access to people’s financial information. Scammers will send messages out pretending to be from the recipient’s bank or credit card company, asking them to call “right away” to resolve some issue. When the person responds to the “special” number in the email, they are asked to “confirm their identity” by revealing account information that the scammer will then use to access the person’s account.

Other texts may appear to be from major retailer telling the recipient that they have won a gift card to the store. When they call to claim their prize, the scammer asks for an account address or social security number to confirm the winner’s identity. Or, they might ask for a credit card to pay the “shipping and handling” to have the prize sent to them.

These cons are new approaches to “phishing” scams that been around the online world practically since the first email was sent. These “smishing” scams (SMS Phishing) use the brief, ubiquitous nature of texting to nudge the unsuspecting and harried consumer to put themselves in a position to be pressured by the con artist to reveal important information.

Banks and retailers might send your offers by text message, but they would never ask for your account number or personal information as part of that transaction. If you receive a message that says it’s from your bank or a big name store, it is always best to call source directly at a number that is publicly available. It is also a good idea to check with the Better Business Bureau to see if this scam shows up on their database. The folks at snopes.com also maintain a list of current scams. Their website is a necessary stop for anyone who suspects they have been targeted by scammers. (Plus, it’s kind of fun to read.)

In general, be very careful about volunteering information about you, your location and any financial institutions you use to make online payments when you are out in cyberspace. And keep an eye on your accounts. Don’t wait for the end-of–the-month statement. Get in the habit of checking your bank account or credit card statement online every day or so, particularly when you’ve been doing a lot of shopping, to make certain all the charges are correct.

Resources

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 | Security Threat Alert | Technology | Wireless Networking

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