Monthly Archives: July 2013

Navigate Like A Fighter Pilot

Smartphones have pretty much taken over as the default navigation tool for many drivers. However, some states like California have outright banned smartphone use in the car: no windshield mounts or dashboard cradles allowed. So, how are you going to get your turn-by-turn directions when looking at your phone is illegal? Garmin has announced a new way to interact with its StreetPilot and Navigon smartphone navigation apps: a device called the HUD.

HUD — short for head-up display — sits on the dashboard at the base of the windshield, where it projects navigation data upward into the driver’s line of sight, either onto a transparent film affixed to the windshield glass or a reflector lens that attaches to the HUD device. Both the film and reflector lens are included with the device.

Garmin states that HUD will automatically adjust the brightness of its projections, so that the display remains visible in direct sunlight or at night. The device will be powered by a 12V charging cable with an integrated USB port for keeping your smartphone charged as well.

What’s your phone got to do with this? HUD’s data is provided by one of Garmin’s navigation apps — either Navigon or StreetPilot — on an Android, iPhone, or Windows Phone 8 smartphone. The head-up display pairs with your handset via Bluetooth to communicate with the navigation app. (Many phones can also simultaneously pair with your car’s Bluetooth system to broadcast the spoken portion of the turn-by-turn directions and to take incoming calls.)

In addition to turn arrows, distance to the next turn, current speed and speed limit, HUD can also display the estimated time of arrival, graphic lane guidance, traffic delays, upcoming safety camera locations, excessive speed warnings, and more.

By projecting this limited, yet relevant data up in the driver’s line of sight, Garmin claims that “HUD can help increase safety and reduce driver distraction. HUDs windshield display looks pretty cool too.

The Garmin HUD has an MSRP of $149.99 when it becomes readily available later this summer. Add in an additional $29.99 for Garmin’s StreetPilot or Navigon app for your particular smartphone to power it and off you go.

Here’s a YouTube Video showing the device in action:

Garmin’s Head-up Display (HUD)

Is Microsoft Calling You At Home

Pam got a call just a few weeks ago from someone stating they were from Microsoft and they had noticed that her computer was infected and would like to help her get it cleaned up. These scam calls started several years ago and they will continue because too many folks are still falling for it. The sophistication level of this scam continues to fool people, but the bottom line is that Microsoft (or any other legitimate company) will never call you out of the blue to help you with a problem you didn’t know you had.

The closest exception is that your ISP (Internet Service Provider) could send you a warning e-mail if an infected computer is identified as causing problems from your home or business via your Internet connection, but even they wouldn’t call you on the phone.

Microsoft is well aware of these scams, but there really isn’t much that they can do to stop it since these scammers pop-up out of thin air on a regular basis and have clever ways to mask who they really are.

In most cases, this is a ‘cold-calling’ technique used by unscrupulous computer service organizations, generally from foreign countries, that are simply trying to con folks out of their money. They randomly call phone numbers in the US, because they know that virtually everyone they call will have a computer and the odds are pretty good that they have a Windows-based computer.

We’re starting to see more variations of this scam that don’t always use Microsoft’s name but the intentions are the same: trying to scare you into letting them access your computer to fix it for a fee. They use clever tricks for convincing you that you do have a problem, if they can keep you on the phone long enough (so hang up as quickly as you can!)

Pam, being in the business and wise to these types of scams, took a slightly different view of this scammer and rebuked the person on the phone telling them they should be ashamed of themselves for trying to steal from innocent people, why don’t you get a real job and so on…  They hung up on her!

They’ll try to convince you by having you run some ‘diagnostics’ yourself as proof.

One tactic they use is to get the victim to open the Windows Event Viewer, which has a log of any errors that Windows has detected. Unless you just recently installed Windows, your Event Log is bound to show some errors (very normal), which can be made to seem scary to non-technical users. Another trick is to get you to drop to a command prompt (black background with white text) to check your system ID and run a verify command, which will return the message that ‘verify is off’. They will then tell you that your computer ID can’t be verified which means your computer hasn’t been able to get Windows updates (which is completely false; the verify command is to verify that data has been written to a hard drive correctly).

The caller may even guide you to pull up something that they claim is a system certificate that has a 2011 date, which they will try to convince you means your computer hasn’t been updated since then As you can see, if you follow their instructions, they can easily trick a non-technical victim into believing that their computer really is infected and allow ‘Microsoft’ into their computer remotely to fix it.

Remote service is perfectly fine and safe, but only when you instigate the call for help and it is provided by a trusted source.

Read More about these scams as well as how to report them to Microsoft:

Have You Been Held Up By Internet Criminals

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malware that prevents you from using your computer or accessing your data until you pay a certain amount (the “ransom”) to a remote entity. There are currently two types of ransomware we are seeing:

  • Lock screen ransomware, which displays a full-screen image or webpage that prevents you from accessing anything in your computer, and
  • Encryption ransomware, which encrypts your files with a password, preventing you from opening them

Ransomware typically propagates like a conventional computer worm, entering a system through, for example, a downloaded file, infected website or an exposed vulnerability in a local network service. The program will then run a payload: such as one that will begin to encrypt personal files on the hard drive. More sophisticated ransomware may hybrid-encrypt the victim’s plaintext with a random symmetric key and a fixed public key to further confuse the user. The malware author is the only person that knows the decryption key needed to release control of your PC and files.

Some ransomware payloads do not use encryption. In these cases, the payload is simply an application designed to effectively restrict interaction with the system, typically by overriding explorer.exe in the Windows registry as the default shell, or even modify the master boot record and/or partition table, not allowing the operating system to start at all until it is repaired/removed.

Ransomware payloads, especially ones which do not encrypt files, utilize elements of scareware to coax the user into paying for its removal. The malware may, for example, display notices purportedly issued by companies or law enforcement agencies which falsely claim that the user’s system had been used for illegal activities, or contains illegal content such as pornography and unlawfully obtained software. Some ransomware payloads imitate Windows XP’s product activation notices, falsely claiming that their computer’s Windows installation is counterfeit or requires re-activation.

In any case, the ransomware will attempt to extort money from the user by forcing them to purchase either a program to decrypt the files it had encrypted, or an unlock code which will remove the locks it had applied.

Paying the “fine” does not necessarily return your computer to a usable state. We DO NOT advise that you pay as you are giving the criminals what they want. With ransomware, the threat of prosecution does not come from the legitimate authorities – it’s simply internet criminals trying to extort money from end users.

So what can you do?
Here are some walkthroughs to help rid yourself of this very annoying problem – one from Microsoft and one from Norton

Microsoft: This tutorial is very complete and easy to use.

Norton: This is a YouTube Video tutorial.

Norton’s Power Eraser: Used in the video tutorial above.

How to avoid ransomware in the first place?

There are several free ways to help protect your computer against ransomware and other malware:

  • Keep all of the software on your computer up to date. Make sure automatic updating is turned on to get all the latest Microsoft security updates.
  • Keep your firewall turned on.
  • Never open spam email messages or click links on suspicious websites.

Apples App Store Celebrates 5th Birthday

App Store Celebrates its 5th Birthday this week and YOU get the presents. If you’ve been holding off on buying that pricey app for your iPhone or iPad, today could be your lucky day.

As noted on The Verge website, many of the App Store’s most popular apps are free or highly discounted in what may be a gesture by Apple to celebrate the marketplace’s fifth birthday this week. There is no banner or other indication in the store (at least not yet) to celebrate the milestone.

In some cases, the discounts are steep. Games such as the popular “Infinity Blade II” ($6.99), “Tiny Wings HD” ($2.99) and “Badland” ($3.99) are among the apps currently available for free. The most notable price cut comes for “Traktor DJ,” a popular app for aspiring and professional DJs that is normally $19.99.

You can see a list of all of the apps that are currently marked down to free over at Among Tech. It’s unclear if these apps will be the first of more to temporarily be available for free in the App Store. Apple has not promoted anything in the marketplace to call attention to the anniversary and the app makers currently offering a free download have also been mum on the move.

Since its introduction back on July 10, 2008, one year after the debut of the first iPhone, the App Store has serviced 50 billion downloads, 900,000 apps and hosts 575 million store accounts. The marketplace’s much-lauded “ecosystem” of smartphone programs has spawned more than its fair share of multimillion-dollar companies that got their start exclusively on iOS, such as instagram and Snapchat. Apple has paid developers over 15 Billion on App purchases.

On a side note, Apple is still trying to stop Amazon from using the “App Store” name in its own competing software.

New COPPA rules take effect July 1st

Today, after four-years of discussion, the new stronger FTC rules protecting children online, goes into effect.

Much has changed about the Internet and the way we use it since In 1998 – the year Congress passed the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA. Behavioral advertising, online tracking, social networks and the advent of the mobile Internet have made the Internet more accessible to children, and children’s personal information more accessible to companies as well as potential bad guys.

One thing that had not changed, however, was the federal regulations implementing COPPA – until today. Following a more than two year rule-making process and six month phase-in, the amended COPPA rule is now in effect.

COPPA is complex, but it contains three fundamental concepts.

  1. First, before an operator of a website may collect personal information from a child under the age of 13, it must obtain the verified consent of the child’s parent.
  2. Second, site operators must describe the information they collect and how they use it and share it in a privacy policy.
  3. And finally, the sites must store the children’s’ personal information securely.

These requirements apply to all child-directed sites – sites that have children as their primary target audience – and general audience sites that know they are collecting personal information from children under the age of 13.

The new rule adapts these core concepts to the current realities of Internet usage and data collection. In doing so, it substantially expands what is considered “personal information.” Reflecting the growth of social networks, user generated content and child-oriented mobile apps, operators of child directed sites now must obtain verifiable parental consent before they can collect users’ screen names, photo, video and audio files that contain a child’s image or voice, geo location data precise enough to identify a street and city; and persistent identifiers, such as cookies, an IP address, or unique mobile device identifier.

The new rule also makes clear that third parties, such as advertising networks, who receive personal information from sites they know are child directed must comply with COPPA, even if they have no direct user relationship with the child. Although these third parties will not have to investigate their partners’ sites, the Federal Trade Commission has suggested that they will be deemed to have knowledge if one of their employees recognizes that they are receiving personal information from a child-directed site.

The FTC has ramped up its enforcement of COPPA in recent years, and civil penalties are often substantial – up to $16,000 per violation. Companies, especially startups, will need to understand how their data collection practices fit within the complex new COPPA Rule.

Although the FTC has indicated that it will exercise moderation in the initial months of the new rule where companies are acting in good faith to comply, that leniency will not last forever. For additional information visit the websites listed below.

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