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Greg Allen
Devoted to assisting small business to tap the enormous potential of technology and the internet technology to enhance their businesses in very creative ways
Devoted to assisting small business to tap the enormous potential of technology and the internet technology to enhance their businesses in very creative ways

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Why people still fall for phishing emails

Emails that pop into your inbox, appearing to be from a bank, utility, or shipping company, are favorite vehicles for scammers.

These phishing emails are intended to hook you, persuading you to click on a link or provide logins, passwords, and other sensitive data. Many of these scams are seemingly easy to spot, but millions of people still fall for them.

H.R. Rao, a security expert at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), did a study to find out why. He concludes that too many consumers are overconfident in their ability to determine which email is for real and which one is a scam.

Rao thinks most people believe they're smarter than the criminals behind these schemes, and that is one reason so many fall easily into the trap. Other recent research on the subject has reached similar conclusions.

"A big advantage for phishers is self efficacy," Rao, a UTSA College of Business faculty member, said. "Many times, people think they know more than they actually do, and are smarter than someone trying to pull of a scam via an e-mail."

Remember the Nigerian prince?

Long-time internet users have seen all sorts of phishing emails. A decade or so ago, it was very common to hear from a deposed Nigerian prince who was desperate to get his fortune out of the country and just needed access to your bank account to accomplish that.

But if that is still your view of what a phishing email is, Rao says you could be vulnerable to today's updated, refreshed phishing schemes. Today, he says phishing emails come disguised as messages from companies, and even people, that the recipient knows and trusts.

"They're getting very good at mimicking the logos of popular companies," Rao said.

Speaks from experience

Rao speaks from experience. Last year he says he got an email that appeared to come from UPS, informing him there was a problem with a package he had sent. Since he had just sent out a package via UPS, Rao said his initial reaction was that the message was legitimate.

Remember that the scammer is playing a numbers game. If he sends out 20 million messages that there is a problem with a UPS shipment, the majority of recipients would disregard the message because they had not sent anything recently using UPS.

But suppose 40,000 of the recipients had just sent a package with the carrier. If half fell for the scheme, the scammer would have ensnared 20,000 victims.

Overconfidence is a killer

"In any of these situations, overconfidence is always a killer," Rao said.

In a recent study, participants were asked to judge a large number of emails, identifying the ones that were real and the ones that were fakes. Participants also gave the reasons for their conclusions.

Rao and his colleagues found overconfidence played a major role when participants misidentified a scam email as real.

The defense against these schemes, says Rao, is a healthy dose of skepticism about any email that lands in your inbox.

In the event of a message from UPS that there is a problem with your shipment, don't click on a link. Instead, contact UPS customer service directly.

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Latest email scam targets PayPal and Amazon users

Consumers should be wary of emails stating that there is a security problem with their PayPal or Amazon account. Emails of this nature are the latest email scheme designed to trick users into giving up personal information.

Responding to one of these emails, or clicking on a link to submit your information, gives scammers access to your financial information. It may even infect your computer with a virus.

“These online services and businesses make it easy for consumers to shop and pay for items online, but there are people out there who want to use this convenience as a way to steal your money, or even worse, your identity,” said Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood in a statement.

These phishing scams can also appear as pop-up messages on your computer, he noted. Tip-offs that an email from PayPal or Amazon might actually be from a scammer include typos and plenty of questions designed to gather personal information.

Misspelled words: a red flag
Think twice before responding to an email asking for your username, password, or financial information. Reputable business will never ask for this information in an email, Hood said.

Misspelled words are another giveaway that the email you’re looking at may have been crafted by a scammer. Hood says the latest PayPal email scam misspells the word PayPal and sends you to a fake website.

Scammers attempt to trick Amazon users into giving up their personal information by asking them to confirm an order for something they didn’t buy, asking that they update their payment information, or asking for their username, password or other information. Like emails intended to ensnare PayPal users, these emails usually contain misspelled words or grammatical errors.

Protecting against phishing emails
PayPal and Amazon have nothing to do with the scams, he noted. So, instead of responding to unsolicited emails from PayPal or Amazon, Hood recommends going to the companies’ websites and using the sites’ secure login to verify account activity.

“Anti-virus software and a firewall can protect you from inadvertently accepting such unwanted files,” he said. To reduce your risk of falling victim to a phishing scam, Hood recommends heeding the following advice:

Do not respond to any unsolicited e-mails of this nature.
Do not click on any attachments associated with such emails, as they may contain viruses or malware.
If you are concerned about your account, contact the organization in the email using a telephone number you know to be genuine, or open a new Internet browser session and type in the company’s correct Web address. In any case, don’t cut and paste the link in the message.
If you initiate a transaction and want to provide your personal or financial information through an organization’s website, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL for a website that begins “https:” (the “s” stands for “secure”).

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Why parents' use of media devices is just as bad as their children

Researchers found that parents spend an exorbitant amount of time looking at screens.

The use of media devices is higher than it has ever been before, and one of the groups commonly associated with all that screen time is children and teenagers. It often falls to parents to try and limit the amount of screen exposure and set a good example, but a new study shows that their media use may be just as bad.

Researchers at the Common Sense Census conducted surveys on over 1,700 parents with children between the ages of 8 and 18. They found that parents spent roughly 9 hours and 22 minutes on some sort of media device. The vast majority of that time wasn’t work-related either; the researchers said that only 18%, or 1 hour and 22 minutes, of that time was work-related screen time. The rest was used on “personal screen media” – activities like watching TV, playing games, or surfing the web.

Perhaps ironically, over half of participating parents said that they were worried that their children would become addicted to technology or that it would affect their quality of sleep. Seventy-eight percent also said that they thought they were good role models when it came to media use.

“These findings are fascinating because parents are using media for entertainment just as much as their kids, yet they express concerns about their kids’ media use while also believing that they are good role models for their kids,” said James P. Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Census.

Parental concerns

Social media and internet use stood out as big concerns for parents in the study. Around half of the respondents said that they thought too much time on social media negatively affected physical activity, and a smaller faction said that it hurt children’s ability to focus (35%), impeded face-to-face communication (34%), and worsened behavior (24%), school performance (22%), emotional well-being (20%), and relationships with friends (20%). However, 44% of parents thought social media made friendships stronger.

Parents who were concerned about general internet use said they were “moderately” or “extremely” worried about four major things: spending too much time online (43%), over-sharing personal details (38%), accessing online pornography (36%), and exposure to violent content (36%).

Other concerns connected to media use primarily focused on addiction and health. Fifty-six percent of parents said they were worried that their children could become addicted to technology, while 34% said they were specifically worried about their children not getting enough sleep because of media devices.

Double standard?

While parents have all these concerns about their children’s media use, they tend to have a much more cavalier stance when it comes to their own consumption. The study found that, on average, parents spent 3 hours and 17 minutes watching TV, DVDs, or video on a daily basis. Video gaming came in at the next highest use (1:30), followed by social networking (1:06), browsing websites (0:51), and other activities on computers, smartphones, and tablets (0:44).

The researchers found that level of education and income were factors that affected media use. Parents that had a BA degree or more spent 1 hour and 33 minutes less on personal screen media than parents with a high school diploma or less. Parents who made under $35,000 per year had the most logged personal screen time with 9 hours and 15 minutes, compared to parents making between $35,000 and $100,000 (7:42) and those making over $100,000 (6:41).

While talking to parents about their media use, the researchers found that some participants were often surprised by how much time they spent on certain activities.

“I like to play Words with Friends, and sometimes I’ll find that after a while I’ll be like, oh my God, I’ve been on this for an hour, and you have to say, OK, I have to put this away. I can see how children can get hooked on playing video games or using media the entire weekend,” said one mother of a 15-year-old.

While the surveys found that many parents mediate their child’s use of technology or screen time, the findings suggest that taking the time to examine their own consumption habits could be beneficial.

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Texting Sensitive Business Information is inherently Risky

It's not just teenagers who spend their days texting. Sending short text messages over a mobile device has become the preferred way to communicate, even at work.

Texting is also being pushed on businesses, with the argument that it's the most effective way to communicate with customers and employees.

Maybe sending general marketing information to customers via text is something to consider, but TeleMessage, which provides secure messaging systems for businesses, warns that transmitting sensitive business information via text is inherently risky.

It even says using consumer chat apps like WhatsApp and iMessage for business purposes can be playing with fire. Yet, it cites surveys showing nearly all employees are using their smartphones to transmit work-related information.

TeleMessage says the most common threat is an employee losing his or her smartphone. When that happens, it says 68% of victims never recover their phones. The person who finds it then has access to the text messages sent and received on the device.

Phones can be hacked

Beyond lost or stolen phones, there's concern about hacks. TeleMessage says it only takes one text to hack 950 million android phones. It says one Android flaw produced six critical vulnerabilities on 95% of Android devices.

As employees are embracing consumer messaging apps, IT administrators are increasingly concerned about employees downloading the latest popular messaging app and using it to send and receive the company's latest sales figures and other information that shouldn't fall into the wrong hands.

Other reasons

The technology website ZDNet agrees that employees should avoid texting for business purposes, arguing email is always a preferred way to communicate.

But ZDNet doesn't cite security concerns as a reason for not using texts for work-related communication. It points out that texts tend to be viewed as more casual, and there is the risk an employee won't give information transmitted in a text the attention it deserves.

It points out email provides a more business-like platform and leaves a more robust paper trail in the event of litigation.

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New satellite photo shows Tokyo in amazing detai

A brand new satellite orbiting hundreds of miles above Earth's surface has just opened its eyes.

DigitalGlobe released the first public photo taken by the company's Earth-gazing WorldView-4 satellite, and it's a beauty.

The new image, taken on Nov. 26 and unveiled last week, shows Tokyo, Japan's Yoyogi National Gymnasium, one of the sites of the 1964 Olympics.

WorldView-4 is the latest advanced satellite in a fleet of five DigitalGlobe spacecraft designed to beam high-resolution images of various places on Earth back to people on the ground.

The details in the new photo are impressive, especially considering that the image was taken from 617 kilometers, or about 383 miles, above the planet. Cars and trucks can be seen on roads and in parking lots, and stretching shadows of soccer players fan out on pitches on the upper-left portion of the photo

The difference between WorldView-4's first photo and some of the early images taken by DigitalGlobe's Ikonos satellite, which launched in 1999 and took its last photo in 2014, are like night and day.

Black and white Ikonos images clearly show large-scale features of different areas, but the detail is lost, limiting the number of applications available to users of the data.

All in all, WorldView-4 will provide 680,000 square kilometers (a bit less than the size of Texas) of imagery to DigitalGlobe's database every day.

Clients like Google use those images to create maps, provide help to aid organizations after disasters, and other applications.

DigitalGlobe isn't the only commercial company in the Earth imagery game. In fact, this is a rapidly expanding area, though DigitalGlobe stands out for its sizable government business with secretive organizations like the National Reconnaissance Office.

Start-ups like Orbital Insight, Planet and Spire want to use small satellites and big data to analyze images quickly to track issues like deforestation and even track aircraft and provide insight about the weather.

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Gooligan malware infects a million Google accounts

An attack campaign dubbed Gooligan has infected more than 1 million Google accounts, with 13,000 new devices being breached each day, according to Check Point Software Technologies Ltd., a cyber security firm.

The malware, which affects older versions of the Android system, steals authentication tokens that can be used to access data from Google Play, Gmail, Google Photos, Google Docs, G Suite, Google Drive, and more, Check Point said.

“We’re appreciative of both Check Point’s research and their partnership as we’ve worked together to understand these issues,” said Adrian Ludwig, Google’s director of Android security. “As part of our ongoing efforts to protect users from the Ghost Push family of malware, we’ve taken numerous steps to protect our users and improve the security of the Android ecosystem overall.”

Gooligan can potentially infect about 74% of Android devices, including those running Android 4 -- which includes Jelly Bean and KitKat -- and Android 5 (Lollipop), the researchers said.

What to do

The malware is contained in tens of thousands of fake apps. Check Point has set up a test page on its site where you can see if your device is infected.

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You’ve probably seen 32-bit and 64-bit options available whenever you download an app, or install a game. Your PC might even have a sticker that says it has a 64-bit processor. But does it really matter? Nearly every PC nowadays has a 64-bit processor now, so why should you care about the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems?

Well, for starters, if you’re a Windows user, you’ve probably noticed that you have two Program Files folders — one labeled simply “Program Files” and the other labeled “Program Files (x86).” Understanding the difference between these two folders and why you have them in the first place is pretty important, especially if you’ve ever installed the wrong program in the wrong folder. It’s the kind of thing you’ll never notice until you accidentally do it and your apps start misbehaving.

The same, but different

First off, the reason you have those two folders is because there are currently two fundamentally different architectures used to manufacture computer processors, and as a result, there are two fundamentally different ways to write programs and apps. Applications all use shared resources on a Windows system; these are called DLL files, or Dynamic Link Libraries. They’re basically just pooled libraries of common resources that many different apps will use. Windows puts them all in a single place to make things easier for software developers.

So those DLL files are written and structured in fundamentally different ways because they’re meant to be used by 64-bit applications or 32-bit applications. If, for instance, a 32-bit application reaches out for a DLL and finds a 64-bit version, it’s just going to stop working. Imagine going into a library to find a specific textbook, and then realizing that everything is in a foreign language. You’d likely leave and assume you went to the wrong place right. Same basic principle applies here.

Wouldn’t it be easier if you simply used 64-bit software on 64-bit systems, and ignore 32-bit software entirely? Well, not really. The problem is the 32-bit (x86) architecture has been around for a very long time, and there are still a host of applications that utilize 32-bit architecture. Modern 64-bit systems can run 32-bit and 64-bit software because of a very simple and easy solution: two separate Program Files directories. When 32-bit applications are sequestered to the appropriate x86 folder, Windows knows to serve up the right DLL, aka the 32-bit version. Everything in the regular Program Files directory, on the other hand, can access the other stuff, the good stuff.

So why does it even matter, why do we have these two different architectures at all?

What are bits?

The number of bits in a processor refers to the size of the data types that it handles and the size of its registry. Simply put, a 64-bit processor is more capable than a 32-bit processor because it can handle more data at once. A 64-bit processor is capable of storing more computational values, including memory addresses, which means it’s able to access over four billion times as much physical memory than a 32-bit processor. That’s just as big as it sounds. 64-bit processors are to 32-bit processors what the automobile is to the horse-drawn buggy.

The key difference: 32-bit processors are perfectly capable of handling a limited amount of RAM (in Windows, 4GB or less), and 64-bit processors are capable of utilizing much more. Of course, in order to achieve this, your operating system also needs to be designed to take advantage of the greater access to memory. This Microsoft page runs down memory limitations for multiple versions of Windows. A horse-drawn cart will get you to work just as easily as a car will, barring any equine issues, but a car is a lot more capable – it can get you to work, or across the country and it can do it a lot faster than a horse can.

How many bits?

As a general rule, if you have under 4GB of RAM in your computer, you don’t need a 64-bit CPU, but if you have 4GB or more, you do. While many users may find that a 32-bit processor provides them with enough performance and memory access, applications that tend to use large amounts of memory may show vast improvements with the upgraded processor. Image and video editing software, 3D rendering utilities, and video games will make better use of a 64-bit architecture and operating system, especially if the machine has 8GB or even 16GB of RAM that can be divided among the applications that need it.

Through hardware emulation, it’s possible to run 32-bit software and operating systems on a machine with a 64-bit processor. The opposite isn’t true however, in that 32-bit processors cannot run software designed with 64-bit architecture in mind. This means if you want to take full advantage of your new processor you also need a new operating system, otherwise you won’t experience any marked benefits over the 32-bit version of your hardware.

Operating System Differences

With an increase in the availability of 64-bit processors and larger capacities of RAM, Microsoft and Apple both have upgraded versions of their operating systems that are designed to take full advantage of the new technology.

In the case of Microsoft Windows, the basic versions of the operating systems put software limitations on the amount of RAM that can be used by applications, but even in the ultimate and professional version of the operating system, 4GB is the maximum usable memory the 32-bit version can handle. While a 64-bit operating system can increase the capabilities of a processor drastically, the real jump in power comes from software designed with this architecture in mind.

Software and Drivers

Applications with high performance demands already take advantage of the increase in available memory, with companies releasing 64-bit versions of their programs. This is especially useful in programs that can store a lot of information for immediate access, like image editing software that opens multiple large files at the same time.

Video games are also uniquely equipped to take advantage of 64-bit processing and the increased memory that comes with it. Being able to handle more computations at once means more spaceships on screen without lagging and smoother performance from your graphics card, which doesn’t have to share memory with other processes anymore.

Most software is backwards compatible, allowing you to run applications that are 32-bit in a 64-bit environment without any extra work or issues. Virus protection software and drivers tend to be the exception to this rule, with hardware mostly requiring the proper version be installed in order to function correctly.
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