Windows 8.1 Update On The Horizon

Windows 8.1 On The Horizon - Boot

Microsoft has announced that the preview of the much-anticipated update to Windows 8, Windows 8.1 (codenamed Blue), will be released at the upcoming BUILD conference with the final version available for download shortly afterward.

As expected, Microsoft has also confirmed the update from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 will be a freely available to Windows 8 users as an online download from the Windows Store.

When it comes to system updates, it’s all too common to encounter the old colloquialism, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”  In a static environment where the machine doesn’t interact with the Internet or other machines in any way, and the user is perfectly content with the performance of the system, this may well be a valid stance to take.

Windows 8.1 On The Horizon - Laptop Casual User

Unfortunately, most of us don’t keep our computers in sterile bubbles.  We frequent social networking sites.  We download applications.  We watch and share online videos.  We write blogs and forum posts on everything ranging from aardvark anime characters to zebra zoology.  Even the most careful of us is likely to check our email from time to time, and the moment your machine is connected to the Internet, your machine is potentially at risk, however unlikely you may feel the possibility is.

Microsoft has generally been fairly reasonable with how quickly it addresses bugs and security holes, and they keep a fairly regular update schedule when it comes to small updates and “hot fixes.”  However, Microsoft is far more stingy when it comes to cumulative updates, service packs, and upgrades, and when one comes around, it bears serious consideration.

There is some debate among the StopSign research and development team as to whether Windows 8.1 best fits into the category of an upgrade (essentially a “New” version of Windows, fairly distinct from the previous) or if it is more appropriately considered a service pack (a collection of hot fixes, security updates, critical updates, and general system updates), but one thing uniformly agreed upon is that the update is important enough for Microsoft to publicize widely for both the development and user community.

Historically, Windows service packs have been tremendous boons when it comes to security and functionality.  The difference between the original Windows XP and Windows XP Service Pack 2 was dramatic, including nearly 1,000 hotfixes, changes to the networking infrastructure to include a new wireless API (Wireless Zero Configuration), and the Windows Security Center (now known as the Windows Action Center), a centralized console from which the user is able to manage the Windows Firewall, installation of Windows Updates, and anti-virus / malware software.

In the months following the release of Windows XP’s Service Pack 2, the StopSign technical support team reported significantly lowered instances of re-infected machines.  Bolstered by the security success of this free Microsoft update, it became a standard recommendation in cases where technical support encountered a user prone to frequent infections.

If security related concerns aren’t enough of a reason to give strong consideration to the upcoming release of Windows 8.1, consider that Microsoft also has a tendency to slip in streamlined and optimized code, often resulting in a smoother experience and notable performance benefits for the end-user.

Windows 8.1 On The Horizon - Updates Ready

While the full contents of the Windows 8.1 update have yet to be released, a full disclosure is expected by the time of the BUILD conference, and we are excited and eager to install and fully review the new and updated functionality.  If you are currently using Windows 8 and in doubt as to how to go about obtaining the update to Windows 8.1, your easiest solution may simply be to ensure you have enabled automatic updates.

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Email Spoofing – Basic Policies to Keep You Safe

Email Spoofing – Basic Policies to Keep You Safe

Your PayPal account has been locked!

Confirm your Bank Information Now!

You’ve Received a Secure Fax From The IRS.

Email spoofing, the process of sending emails designed to appear as if they were sent by another sender, is certainly not a new method of distributing malware that harvests personal information or financial data. Each year, potentially hundreds of new spoofing schemes appear, ranging from emails claiming to contain faxes from the IRS to videos of social events such as the Boston marathon bombing.

Mere hours after the recent Oklahoma tornadoes, the various email traps (often referred to as SpamPots, a take on the term HoneyPot) used by the StopSign research and development team to collect samples and monitor trends had already seen several large surges of emails attempting to capitalize on the disaster, almost all of which containing attached viruses or links to malicious web sites.

There are several key actions you can take to protect yourself.

  • Don’t Click the Link — If a bank or merchant needs your information, you will always be able to enter it directly on their website, logging in as you normally would.
  • Don’t Open the Attachment — If you are not expecting an email attachment, or if it seems out of character for the sender, don’t open the attachment, even if the sender is someone you know personally.
  • Update Your Virus Scanner — Even emails you were expecting, and from people you know and trust, can contain viruses and links to malicious sites the sender may not have noticed.

Scanning every unknown file is always good policy, regardless of its origin. Even large corporations, which may rely on the browsing and email habits of hundreds if not thousands of people, are not free from the risk of infection. On more than one occasion, history has even seen companies accidentally distribute viruses via CD and even seemingly harmless devices containing flash memory. You can safeguard your own computer, but you can never account for another’s actions.

Safe browsing!

Image courtesy of intelfreepress

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Internet Addiction Warning Signs

Internet Addiction Warning Signs

Much like Gutenberg did for the Bible (and knowledge in general) with his printing press, the Internet has commoditized information for the modern age. It’s an evolutionary step in communication, allowing just about anyone to quickly and easily spread their message to virtually everyone on Earth with a computer or mobile device. But with great power comes great responsibility, and perhaps most important is the responsibility we have to ourselves and our loved ones.

The rewards of going online are vast, and the risks are few, but one notable risk is the possibility of becoming addicted to the Internet. Much like alcohol, gambling, shopping, etc… surfing the Internet can be habit-forming for some, and its consequences can be just as damning. It’s because of that reason that it’s important to know how to spot the warning signs of Internet addiction in yourself or loved ones before it’s too late.

Signs of Internet Addiction
(Please keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list, nor are we doctors. If you think you or a loved one has an addiction to the Internet, please seek professional help.)

  • A disruptive preoccupation with the Internet

    People who are addicted to the Internet tend to allow their time online to interrupt or damage time outside of the web. When a regular disregard for jobs, family, school, or other responsibilities are encountered so the person can be online, the potential for Internet addiction is high.

  • An increase in time online

    Addicts tend to fuel their own fires by spending increasing amounts of time online. And often times if they do try to reduce how much they’re on the web, they are unsuccessful in controlling their behavior and cutting back. Many times the person doesn’t even realize how long they’re on the Internet.

  • Irritability, anxiousness, and depression

    If the person becomes increasingly moody, “out of sorts”, or just doesn’t act like themselves when they’re away from the web, they could be exhibiting signs of addiction.

  • Lies and deceit

    Behavioral changes such as lying and covering up their tracks is a common tactic of the Internet addict. The person will attempt to conceal how much they’re online, or they may even try to change the subject and become irritated when pressed about their time online.

  • Loss of interest in hobbies and other activities

    The addiction can manifest itself in such a way that activities that were once pleasurable are now cast aside and neglected. This includes relationships, whether with friends or family. The Internet will become their primary focus.

In many cases an Internet addict is trying to feel better about some aspect of their life, and using the Internet is like a drug that helps a little (many times they will feel euphoric when they first go online), but the more they use it the less it helps, so it becomes a never-ending circle.

Additional Resources On Internet Addiction

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What Is Cyberbullying? Defining A Modern Problem.

What Is Cyberbullying? Defining A Modern Problem.

Keeping kids safe from bullying has never been harder for parents, teachers, and families. If the physical world weren’t enough for us to keep up with, we’re now learning more every day about the importance of keeping our eyes and ears open for cyberbullying across our children’s email, smart phone, social media, and even school-related sites. It’s not just the Internet that’s talking about it — TV news shows, radio personalities, and magazines are increasingly talking about cyberbullying and how it affects everyone, especially kids. But what is it exactly, and what can be done to help prevent the bullying in the first place?

There are many definitions of cyberbullying out there to choose from, but they all break down to something like this:

Cyberbullying Definition
Cyberbullying is any form of intentional harassment that takes place online or by using electronic devices such as smartphones, personal computers, iPods, tablets, and other hand-held devices like the Kindle. It can happen through text messages, social media posts, online chat (IM‘s, or instant messaging), and on websites. (A famous example being Internet forums)

Nowadays, as many as 1 in 3 children say they’ve been cyberbullied (Source), and half of the kids who are cyberbullied never tell their parents (Source). It may come to some people as a surprise that girls are more likely to be an online bully than boys, (Source) but at the end of the day and regardless of whether it’s a boy or girl doing it — it’s wrong, it’s harmful, and it’s a growing problem among school-age children.

So what can parents, teachers, and other friends and family do to help combat the situation? Now that we have it defined, we can focus on the areas it happens. Keeping a watchful eye on Internet activity, games played on iPods and Kindles, who your kids are texting (and what they’re saying!), and in general keeping tabs on their electronic life is a fantastic first line of defense against cyberbullies. Just remember that it’s not about snooping or invading privacy. It’s about ensuring the health and well-being of your children and teaching them to use caution when interacting with anyone online.

Some of what cyberbullies pick up on are things that we put out there in the first place, so there are some things everyone (kids, parents… seriously, anyone at all) can do to help prevent bullying before it happens.

  • No Personally Identifiable Information:

    Be cautious about filling out online surveys, posting the answers to questionnaires on Facebook, or making any information available online or in a text that can give away your identity. Last names, home addresses, phone numbers, and even plans to go somewhere at a future time or day are all fodder for those who would try to bully.

  • Say No To Geo-Location:

    While geo-location tools are great for finding out where your family members are or getting yourself un-lost on a road trip, when used on social media networks and across other publicly viewable profiles it gets predators of all types that much closer to your and your kids. Resist the urge to add your location(s) to tweets and posts.

  • Speak Out Against Bullying:

    If you or your family see cyberbullying, regardless of how small or insignificant it may seem, say something. Too many children don’t speak up for themselves, and the damages to self-esteem can lead a child to depression, feeling nervous or scared, and in some well-publicized cases to suicide. Take bullying seriously and nip it in the bud as soon as you see it.

  • Stranger Danger:

    Only “friend” people online who you actually know. Close friends, family, etc. It’s so easy to let the wrong person into your online life, and once they’re in, it’s not always easy to get them out. Keeping a close eye on who you allow to follow you or see your private posts (such as the Friends Of Friends option on Facebook) can help reduce the chances of a bully smearing your profile with their vitriol.

  • Be Smart About What You Publish:

    Some things just aren’t meant to be shared online. Certain posts, and especially those with inappropriate material attached, can get you into hot water… fast. My rule of thumb is that I won’t post anything I wouldn’t be embarrassed to have my grandma show to all of her friends. Your mileage may vary with that one, but whatever you need to help curb your desire to post something embarrassing, use it!

If your child or someone you know does become the victim of a cyberbully, resist the temptation to delete the offending images, text, etc. The best thing to do is to take a screenshot of the material and use it against the bully by alerting the appropriate authorities, whether that’s the police, school staff, or the bully’s parents. For something minor or an isolated incident, a lesser solution may be appropriate, but if there are any serious threats of harm, do not hesitate contacting your local law enforcement. If you need more ideas about what to do, we’ve got a whole blog post on how to deal with a cyberbully.

Additional Resources:

Image courtesy of mdgovpics

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The $1,000 Best Buy Gift Card Scam

The $1,000 Best Buy Gift Card Scam

You have WON a Best Buy Gift Card for $1000! Click on the link below and enter the code #8675309

If you received a text message telling you that you’ve won a Best Buy Gift Card… don’t get so excited. The sad truth is it’s a fraud, and the only thing you’ve won is a spam text message that’s looking to take you for a ride. And not the good kind that ends with you on a beach with a fancy drink in your hand that has a giant piece of fruit on the side.

Gift card scams are nothing new, but using SMS text messages to phish for victims, known as “smishing“, is something that’s gaining more ground, especially as more and more people begin to rely on their smartphones to consume their online habits like shopping, social media, and more. Smishing usually happens around holidays like Christmas or special shopping times like Black Friday, but the truth of the matter is that a smisher can easily send out their texts at any time to virtually anyone.

Here are some red flags to look out for if you receive a text claiming that you’ve won a gift card:

  • Asking for a PIN or other personal information:

    You should never be asked for any personally identifiable information by a site like Best Buy, Walmart, Target, etc. The only time you might be is if you’re on their shopping cart, on their server, and if the site is verified as a secure site. Even then, they won’t ask for your banking PIN, which is a clear indication that you’re being scammed. Stay secure online, and don’t submit your personal information to shady sites.

  • Text/email that mentions a contest entry you never submitted:

    This is a big one because if you didn’t enter, how can you win? Simple: You can’t. I get emails all the time (and text messages every now and then) which claim that I entered this contest or that, but I know they’re all scammers because I don’t, as a rule, enter contests. And if you’re not sure if you entered your name, it’s usually safer to just ignore the text anyhow.

  • You’re required to sign up for a “free” service:

    More often than not, that free service you’re required to sign up for to receive your gift card has some kind of kicker to it, like after 30 days you start paying $9.99/month, or something like that. And they may even tell you that they only need your credit card to verify your age, or that you can cancel any time before the service starts, but it’s all a ploy to get your bank info. Stay safe and steer clear.

Just like with unsubscribe links on a spam email, don’t be tempted to try to opt out of the text message either, because once you do the scammers have confirmation that they sent the text to a live, active phone number, email address, etc. Just ignore, delete, and move on with your day.

Have you or a friend or family member ever received a text message claiming you’ve won a gift card from Best Buy, Target, Walmart, or anywhere else? Let us know what happened below in the comments.

Additional Resources

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The Number One Rule For Students Using Social Media

The Number One Rule For Students Using Social Media

I know a lot of students of all age ranges including neighbors, children of friends, my own kids, etc. When we talk the topic of conversation often navigates to social media with all of them. Most of the discussions center around a funny cat picture on Pinterest, the best Auto-Correct Fail screenshots, or things of that nature. These talks have given me some insight into how these students use social media, and I’ve learned over the years how they act (and react) online is often different from how they would in a real-life situation.

My very unscientific research on social media usage by students thus far has broken things down into something like this:

  • Facebook is for close friends and they talk about anything and everything, often in great detail. There’s very little personal filtering here.
  • Twitter is a free-for-all, and they’ll follow anyone who doesn’t look like a spammer or act like a creep. Details are often less personally identifiable.
  • Pinterest and everything else is generally a lot more for the aforementioned funny cat pictures and “likes” or “faves” versus anything of any real substance.

Cat pictures aside, something that captures my attention every single time is how anyone — students, friends, family, whomever — seems to become more active online. Normally introverted people speak up more, normally extroverted people kick it up a notch, and everyone likes to give their opinion on whatever topic is at hand. And that’s great, but sometimes the online conversations can get a little out of hand.

Since anything posted on the Internet is (for all intents and purposes) forever, this means that anyone equipped with Google and some free time can go through your entire online history and cherry pick the most embarrassing points and use them against you. This includes potential dates and future bosses, both of whom are looking for good reasons to not choose you. Students in high school and college would do well to remember these things when posting online:


The easiest way to successfully creating a drama-free social media presence is to be respectful to everyone you meet online. Family, co-workers, that weird friend who keeps “Poking” you on Facebook but never says anything… Keeping your interactions on an even keel will be a big help in keeping the peace.

Easy On The Swears

A lot of people are turned off by swearing, especially if it’s excessive. It’s advisable to keep as PG as possible and don’t whip up a tapestry of obscenities like a sailor on leave. I know, because I used to be a sailor on leave, and nobody wants to hear or read all of that online. 🙂

Take A Deep Breath

It’s easy to make snap judgments, fire off an incendiary email, or comment on a topic that you may not have the full story on. Being a hot head online, or worse yet purposefully trolling blog posts and forums, can quickly give you a bad reputation.

Social Media Can Make Or Break A Career

Job seekers, beware! Managers, HR groups, and potential employers are using social media more and more to learn about both potential hires as well as current employees. Depending on which study you look at, somewhere between 30-90% of interviewers check on an interviewees’ social media profiles at some point before they make a job offer. Even at the low-end, the chances are pretty good that someone will be checking how you conduct yourself online. Avoid posting your “Oh man, I was über wasted at this party!” pictures, because that might be the one thing a potential boss could see and make a snap decision on.

Things Sound Different When Read Vs. When Said

Emails and other written/typed conversations always sound a little more harsh than they are intended. There’s a lot to be said for the inflection of a voice in a face-to-face conversation, so give people the benefit of the doubt. And if you’re unsure, ask them in person if you can.

Having said all of the above, the number one rule I’d give students engaging in social media is this: Don’t jeopardize your future with a poor choice in the present. Once something is posted online — a blog, a picture, a comment, or anything really — it’s there forever. There are no tap-backs. There are no do overs. What you post online can get archived onto servers, captured by screenshots, and forwarded to friends… and enemies. Be mindful of what you post, and you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.

Image courtesy of heza

If you're looking for great anti-virus software that won't break the bank, try StopSign. You don't pay extra for tech support for difficult malware, and our web protection software just works. Download & install StopSign to find out why our members choose us over the other options.