How To

Net Neutrality – What Does It Mean?


Last week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted stricter net neutrality rules that will basically treat the internet like a public utility.

What’s in the new regulations? There are three major principles that internet service providers—like Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon—have to follow when sending data from their networks to your computer:

No blocking Internet service providers can’t prevent you from accessing “legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices” when you’re on the internet. This is intended to prevent censorship and discrimination of specific sites or services. Some open internet advocates worry the phrase “legal content” will create a loophole that might let internet providers block stuff they see as questionable on copyright grounds without a fair hearing.

No throttling Internet service providers can’t deliberately slow down data from applications or sites on the internet. That means, for instance, that a broadband company has to let all traffic flow equally, regardless of whether it’s coming from a competitor or a streaming video service like Netflix that uses a lot of data bandwidth.

No paid prioritization Internet service providers can’t charge content providers extra to bring their data to you faster. That means no internet “fast lanes,” because regulators fear they will lead to degraded service for anyone not willing to pay more.

If content providers or the networks that make up the internet complain about internet providers acting as gatekeepers for their users, the FCC says it will have the authority “to hear complaints and take appropriate enforcement action if necessary, if they determine the interconnection activities of ISPs are not just and reasonable.” It’s not clear yet what that will mean in practice.

Of course, this ruling could (and probably will) be challenged in the courts by the big broadband companies. But many internet advocates and stock investors are already shifting their focus to looming consolidation in America’s communications markets that could change the way Americans access the internet and consume video.

What Net Neutrality Means For Consumers?  Has anything really changed?
1: It won’t make your home broadband connection faster
2: It won’t eliminate your Wireless data usage cap
3: It won’t stop your wireless carrier from throttling your service when you reached your data threshold
4: It won’t create competition
5: It won’t improve your Friday night Netflix viewing experience
6: It won’t stop the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger

So what will change as a result of these stricter regulations?
Nothing…. That’s the whole point. The Internet has always operated on this basic principle of openness, or Net neutrality. The decade long debate over how to implement Net Neutrality has really been a battle to make certain a level of openness is preserved. And the way to preserve it is by establishing rules of the road that let ISPs, consumers and innovators know what’s allowed and what’s not allowed on the Net.

The only things that do change are that the government now has its fingers in the pie and innovation will take a backseat to profit. The 2 worst possible outcomes for the internet and everyone involved.

See below what our local ISP’s have to say about this:

Verizon is not happy with the Title II regulations announcing their dissent on their blog with the heading “FCC’s Throwback Thursday Move Imposes 1930’s Rules on the Internet”. The remainder of the post was initially written and released in “Morse Code”: http://publicpolicy.verizon.com/blog/entry/fccs-throwback-thursday-move-imposes-1930s-rules-on-the-internet

Comcast’s public stand on Net Neutrality: http://corporate.comcast.com/openinternet?utm_source=google&utm_medium=ppc&utm_campaign=TWCMerger_NB_Natl_Exact&utm_term=net%20neutrality-73498182-VQ16-c&iq_id=73498182-VQ16-c

What Happens To Our Privacy When The Internet Is In Everything?


As the number of internet connected devices — also known as the Internet of Things — continues to grow, so too does the number of devices using voice recognition technology as an interface to allow for hands free control.

Last fall, Amazon revealed a connected speaker with a Siri-style assistant named “Echo” that can perform tasks like adding items to your ecommerce shopping basket on command. At the recent CES conference, Internet connected ‘smart TVs’ which let couch-potatoes channel-hop by talking at their screen, rather than pushing the buttons of a physical remote control are now even more common. It’s clear that the consumer electronics of our future will include more devices with embedded ears that can hear what their owners are saying. And, behind those ears, the server-side brains to data-mine our conversations for advertising intelligence.

The potential privacy intrusion of voice-activated services is massive. Samsung, which makes a series of Internet connected TVs, has a supplementary privacy policy covering its Smart TVs which includes the following section on voice recognition:

“You can control your SmartTV, and use many of its features, with voice commands. If you enable Voice Recognition, you can interact with your Smart TV using your voice. To provide you the Voice Recognition feature, some voice commands may be transmitted (along with information about your device, including device identifiers) to a third-party service that converts speech to text or to the extent necessary to provide the Voice Recognition features to you. In addition, Samsung may collect and your device may capture voice commands and associated texts so that we can provide you with Voice Recognition features and evaluate and improve the features. Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use od Voice Recognition.”

This Samsung example is just the latest privacy-related concern involving SmartTVs — many of which routinely require users to agree to having their viewing data sent back to the TV maker and shared by them with advertisers and others simply in order for them to gain access to the service. The clarity of wording in Samsung’s privacy policy is unique — given that it amounts to warning users not to talk about private stuff in front of your TV screen because multiple unknown entities can listen in.

Creepy is an understatement here. As usual, these “Privacy Policy” warnings are contained within the most often overlooked type of document on the Internet so will easily go unnoticed by the average user.

If the SmartTV owner realizes how ridiculous this is, Samsung does at least allow them to disable the eavesdropping voice recognition ‘feature’, and instead use a more limited set of predefined ‘voice commands’ — and in that instance says it does not harvest their spoken words.

However it will still gather usage info and any other text-based inputs for data mining purposes, as it also notes further down in the policy. So an entire opt-out of being tracked is not part of this very expensive package.

If you do not enable Voice Recognition, you will not be able to use interactive voice recognition features, although you may be able to control your TV using certain predefined voice commands. While Samsung will not collect your spoken word, they may still collect associated texts and other usage data so that we can evaluate the performance of the feature and improve it.

Samsung states: “You may disable Voice Recognition data collection at any time by visiting the “settings” menu. However, this may prevent you from using all of the Voice Recognition features.”

An Internet connected TV that eavesdrops on the stuff you say when you’re sitting on the sofa or watching TV in bed is just the latest overreaching privacy intrusion to come to light for consumers. As technology continues its ever onward march, it’s unlikely to be the worst, and certainly won’t be the last. As more smart devices are deployed in our homes, cars and lives are networked and brought online, and given the technical ability to snoop on us — there is a growing imperative to clean up the darker corners of the digital commerce environment. As consumers we need to insist on setting some boundaries on what is and is not acceptable. Just last month the FTC even warned us of the huge security risks in the Internet of Things.

What happens to our privacy when the Internet is in everything? When all the technological things in your home have networked ears that are fine-tuned for commercial intelligence gathering, where will you go to talk about “personal” or “sensitive” stuff?

Looking for a way to save or even make money in 2015?


If you’re looking for a way to earn extra money in 2015, here’s a list of a dozen mobile apps that can help.

  1. Nielsen Homescan This app will pay you to scan your groceries. Once you sign up to become a Nielsen Homescan family (yep, the same company that tracks TV ratings), the company will send you a free scanner or you can use your smartphone. Every time you go shopping, you simply scan the barcodes on the back of each product and send your data off to Nielsen.

If you want to give it a try, you can fill out the application here: Nielsen Homescan Application (you can’t download this one from the app store; you’ll need to visit their website first).

As an active participant, you earn gift points which you can redeem for different types of merchandise. You can choose electronics, jewelry, household items, and even toys for the kids. The longer you stay on the panel, the more opportunity you have to earn points towards prizes. You also receive entries for the panel’s many sweepstakes. Prizes include money, vacations, and brand new vehicles. http://www.homescan.com/

 

  1. i-Say Mobile The i-Say mobile app is one of the only legitimate paid survey apps out there. It’s actually a part of the Ipsos company, which might be a name you’re familiar with because they do a lot of the polling you see during presidential races.

Historically, some of the top-end surveys can pay up to $95, but those are rare and can take a while to complete. Most surveys pay a buck or two and only take 10-15 minutes. Also, the i-Say app rewards you with points which can then be redeemed for Paypal or gift cards to Amazon, iTunes, etc. (example: 1000 points can be redeemed for $10 Paypal). Use the link above to fill out an application and then they’ll send you a link to download the app. http://i-say.com/

 

  1. Ibotta The Ibotta app will pay you cash to take a picture of your receipts.

Here’s how it works: 1. Sign up for a free account with Ibotta (just need a name & email address). 2. Download the mobile app and then click on the “Rebates” section. 3. From here, you should see dozens of different rebates you can take advantage of. For example, right now the app is offering 50 cents if I upload a picture of a receipt showing that you bought milk. And there’s another rebate for $10 if you upload a picture of a Best Buy receipt.

Now, you obviously don’t want to go out and buy a bunch of stuff you don’t need, but you will find tons of rebates for things you are already buying. Plus, you can stack regular coupons on top of the rebate, meaning some of you savvy shoppers will be able to get free stuff. https://ibotta.com/

 

  1. Media Research Panel Media Research Panel is a smartphone app that helps media companies better understand how consumers use, view and share TV, social, digital and mobile media. Their app “measures activities conducted on a device, such as sharing, viewing, clicking, chatting, downloading and more. The app also listens for TV shows, and, using technology of Gracenote, Inc., identifies which TV shows was captured.”

When you install their app, they’ll pay you $5/month per device. And you can install the app on up to 3 devices. Plus they’ll send you a $5 bonus after the 12th week. (Totals $185/year)

Here’s how to do it: 1. Sign up for Media Insiders Panel (you can’t download this one from the app store) 2. Install and activate the MI Mobile app onto your device(s). 3. Watch your e-mail for important information and instructions on next steps. Also, at no time is a member’s personally identifiable information ever shared or released publicly, nor will they ever interact with you via social media.

Support devices: Android™ smartphones and tablets that run Android version 4.0 or greater, and are not rooted. They also accept the Kindle Fire HD, but not the first generation Kindle Fire. iPhone®5, iPad®, iPad mini®, and iPod touch® devices that run iOS version 5.0 or greater. ***You’ve got be a US resident, 13 years or older, and have a valid email address. https://www.mediainsiders.com/

  1. Field Agent The Field Agent app will pay you to complete small tasks around town for their clients. The tasks are pretty simple: scanning barcodes with your iPhone, checking prices at your local grocery store and conducting field surveys.

Payouts vary and depend on the job and area that you are in. For example, a job posted in Mission Viejo, California is looking for an agent to take 4 separate photos of products in the toothbrush section of the local Target. This particular task pays 9 dollars.

And in Brooklyn, New York, a field agent can go to a local Toys “R” Us store, snap a shot of the $19.99 & under video game display and come out a healthy $5.50 richer.

Remember though: you’re in this to make money; don’t bust out the plastic when you see a new Xbox 360 game nearby that you’ve been itching to buy. Field Agent job payouts typically vary between $2 – $8  (payable through PayPal). Most of the jobs only take 5 minutes, so the real time involved is with driving to each location. Still with travel time and gas, you could easily make $10-$20/hour completing mini-jobs. http://www.fieldagent.net/for-agents/

 

  1. Inbox Dollars InboxDollars has been around for quite a while now, but they just came out with a pretty cool mobile app that will pay you to search the web, play games, and take surveys.

The app is totally free to download. Plus, they give you a free $5 just to signup. Once you’ve accumulated $30 earnings (it’s possible to do this in only a couple of hours), you can request payment via check. It takes about 2 weeks to get the check when you cash out. http://www.inboxdollars.com/

 

  1. Receipt Hog Receipt Hog is very similar to Ibotta. You take a picture of your receipts and the “hog” rewards you with points that you can redeem for Paypal or Amazon gift cards.

The difference with this app is that you don’t have to shop anywhere specific, or buy anything specific. You can take a picture of any of your receipts and the app will reward you with points. http://receipthog.com/

 

  1. Bookscouter The Bookscouter app is really useful when you want to sell your old books that are just collecting dust on the shelf. You scan your book’s barcode with a smartphone and Bookscouter will let you compare the payout of 20+ different buyback companies.

Once you’ve found the buyback company offering the most cash, you just fill out a little information about where you want your payment sent and prepare the books to be shipped. Most of the buyback companies offer prepaid shipping labels too, so there aren’t any costs associated with this. http://www.bookscouter.com

 

  1. ESPN Streak for the Cash Think you know sports? The ESPN Streak for the Cash app will let you make predictions for upcoming games and then reward you with cash if you have the longest streak of correct predictions. To make it tougher, you have to make call for 10 different sports. The person with the longest winning streak earns $50,000 every month. Pretty sweet! http://streak.espn.go.com/en/

 

10. Mobee Have you ever tried mystery shopping? The Mobee app will pay you to go undercover in your local stores and restaurants and rate the level of customer service and cleanliness, among other things. http://www.mobeeapp.com/

 

11.  SlideJoy & 12. ScreenPay Both SlideJoy and ScreenPay operate on the same principal – download their app and they will serve ads on your smartphone’s lock screen. For this, you get paid a monthly stipend.

The SlideJoy app doesn’t specify how much you earn (it’s based off how often you look at your phone), but the ScreenPay app will pay you a flat fee of $3 a month, plus they’ll give you $1 just for signup up. These are both Android apps, so they won’t work on your iPhone or Blackberry. https://www.getslidejoy.com/ http://www.screenpay.com/

 

Special Thanks to ThePennyHoarder.com for this list of mobile apps

Did You Get A Drone For Christmas

If so, the FAA has launched campaign targeting you as a rookie drone pilots Drones are no longer high priced specialty item, they come in all shapes and sizes. From affordable film-quality options to toy-sized mini versions now most anyone can own one. Drones have become cheap, fun, and easy enough to control that they make good gifts for any holiday season. But that means that where tech-savvy families would have had to remember to wrap batteries alongside holiday gifts, now they need to worry about Federal Aviation Administration flight regulations.

Thanks to the massive rise of consumer drones, the FAA released a video this week that proposes best practices to help people “stay off the naughty list” as they play with their airborne gifts. The “Know Before You Fly” video is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XF5Q9JvBhxM

It’s safe to say drones were one of the hottest topics in 2014. “Drone porn” became a thing, and the FAA spent so much time going back and forth on how to regulate them that we might not have regulations until 2017. So it’s no surprise that the issue of privacy is actually on a lot of people’s minds:

If you were gifted a drone for Christmas, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has you in its sights. It may not be in the form of long-awaited laws for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that are due later this year, but is a campaign directed at rookie pilots whose expertise may be outstripped by their unbridled enthusiasm.

With the increasing availability of cheap and feature-packed drones, these aircraft have become an aviation concern. The danger is the potential for swarms of drones taking to skies across the US, controlled by people who mightn’t have such a great handle on how to use them.

The FAA is continuing to work away on new regulations to keep all these flying vehicles in check, but in the meantime it has teamed up with UAV organizations and hobby groups to launch Know Before You Fly, a public awareness campaign promoting its already existing rules. Primarily, this means keeping the drone within sight, not flying it over 400 ft (122 m), conducting routine inspections of the craft, keeping clear of manned aircraft and notifying airports or control towers if flying within 5 miles (8 km).

The FAA has also attracted criticism for its slow progress in revamping rules for what is a new era in unmanned flight. It remains illegal to fly UAVs for commercial purposes unless granted permission from the agency, a roadblock that has seen some private firms promise to take their operations overseas.

But Know Before You Fly is at least an acknowledgement of the sharp uptake in the number of drones taking to the skies and expresses a desire to inform and cooperate with budding pilots. The campaign will incorporate a website, educational materials offered at the point-of-sale, along with digital and social media campaigns.

 

2014 Santa Tracking Is Now Online

For most of the year NORAD is tasked with monitoring airspace around the US and Canada for incursions by foreign air forces and potentially devastating man-made objects, but each December it also pours a huge amount of resources into entertaining children around the world by tracking Santa Claus.

This unusual tradition dates back to 1955, when a Sears Roebuck & Company department store offered children the chance to talk directly to Santa in an advertisement. It said: “Hey, Kiddies! Call me on my private phone – just dial ME 2-6681.”

Unfortunately, Sears had accidentally printed the phone number for the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) instead of their special Santa line. Instead of getting through to Santa, the kids ended up on the line to a military base. Once he realized what had happened, Colonel Harry Shoup – who came to be known as the “Santa Colonel” – quickly told his staff to answer the calls with an update on Santa’s current position.

1955_sears_ad NORAD replaced CONAD a few years later, but the tradition remained and continues to this day.

Volunteers staff call centers on Christmas Eve and field around 70,000 phone calls each year from over 200 countries. The whole program is run by volunteers from within NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), but also from Google, Verizon and Air Canada.

Speaking to NBC back in 2010, then deputy commander of NORAD Lt. Gen. Marcel Duval said: “It’s really ingrained in the NORAD psyche and culture. It’s a goodwill gesture from all of us, on our time off, to all the kids on the planet.”

In 1997 the internet was brought into play and each year since, NORAD has hosted a different website tracking Santa’s progress. Through the years they’ve become more and more advanced, upgrading along with the internet itself.

The project has now embraced all forms of online communication and social media using Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Facebook accounts. From 2004 to 2009 people were able to track Santa through Google Earth, with the site offering a download link for the application. Today, we simply log on to NoradSanta.org where kids will find an assortment of games, movies and music to keep them entertained while parent get the last minute holiday preparations taken care of.

On December 24th when NORAD starts tracking Santa, visitors to the site will be able to follow his journey on the 3D globe and pinch and zoom their way to his many destinations.

Your Eyeball Is Your Password


Recent internet threats like Heartbleed indicate that we need a more secure way to do our work online. Eyelock, a New York based company, has responded with Myris, a palm sized device that scans your irises to log you in to your favorite sites.

Myris uses patented technology to convert your individual iris characteristics to a code unique only to you, then matches your encrypted code to grant access to your PCs, e-commerce sites, applications and data— all in less than 1 second.

Myris works easily with digital networks, including online bank accounts, social media accounts, Internet VPNs, email and more. On the back end, you can set passwords as complex as you like and once you link Myris, you can forget them. Myris is robust and reliable enough to secure workstations, high-value transactions, critical databases, and information systems for enterprise and small business.

Features
• FAR (False Accept Rate) is 1 in 1.5 million (single eye)
• Video-based system • USB powered
• Authentication occurs on device • Multiple user capacity—*up to 5 people per device
• Secure communication and encryption (AES 256)
• Easy set-up—user-friendly application software included
• Compatible with Windows 7 & 8, 8.1 and Mac OS 10.8 +

Benefits
• Only DNA is more accurate
• Fast and easy to use—as easy as looking into a mirror
• No recharging, works with any USB device
• Protects your privacy—no personal information is transmitted
• Only one device needed per household
• Your information is kept safe and secure
• Easily manage your access to digital networks
• Works with most PC and tablet operating systems

Never type a password again—Myris grants you access to your digital world. It’s portable, lightweight, fits in the palm of your hand—and is as easy to use as looking at a mirror.

Myris will be featured at CES 2015 and expect to see demos of an integrated Myris version featured by laptop partners including HP and Acer. Myris has also been nominated for an innovation award at CES 2015.

You can get more information on Myris here: http://www.eyelock.com/

 

Microsoft Kills Off Clip Art

Back in the ‘90s, Clip Art took over Word and PowerPoint files thanks to the thousands of office workers and students who used the images as a way to “improve” their documents.

These days there are a large number of free images available on the web, and Microsoft is recognizing this by killing off its Clip Art portal in recent versions Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook. “The Office.com Clip Art and image library has closed shop states Microsoft. Usage of Office’s image library has been declining year-to-year as customers rely more on search engines.

While most references to Clip Art disappeared with Office 2013, users were still able to insert the old-school images into documents using an Office.com Clip Art option. That is now being replaced by Bing Images, with Microsoft filtering images to ensure they’re based on the Creative Commons licensing system for personal or commercial use. Most of the new images are much more modern, instead of the illustrated remnants of the past. Clip Art might be facing the same Office-related demise as did the great Clippy assistant. clipartimages_0   Time marches on!

Protect Yourself From CYBER SCAMS This Holiday Season

FBI reminds shoppers to be aware of cyber criminals offering scams this holiday season!

If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

The FBI reminds shoppers in advance of the holiday shopping season to beware of cyber criminals and their aggressive and creative ways to steal money and personal information. Scammers use many techniques to defraud consumers by offering too good to be true deals via phishing e-mails advertising brand name merchandise, quick money making offers, or gift cards as an incentive to purchase a product. Remember, if the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is and never provide your personal information to an unknown party or untrusted website.

Scammers often use e-mail to advertise hot-ticket items of the year that may become hard to find during the holidays to lure unsuspecting consumers to click on links. Steer clear of untrusted sites or ads offering items at unrealistic discounts or with special coupons. You may end up paying for an item, giving away personal information and credit card details, and then receive nothing in return, along with your identity compromised. These sites may also be offering products at a great price, but the products being sold are not the same as the products they advertise. This is known as the bait and switch scam.

Beware of posts on social media sites that appear to offer vouchers or gift cards, especially sites offering deals too good to be true, such as a free $500 gift card. Some may pose as holiday promotions or contests. It may even appear one of your friends shared the link with you. If so, it is likely your friend was duped by the scam after it was sent to them by one of their friends. Oftentimes, these scams lead to online surveys designed to steal personal information. Remember, if the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. And never provide your personal information to an unknown party or untrusted website.

When purchasing gift cards online, be leery of auction sites selling discounted or bulk offers of gift cards. When purchasing gift cards in the store, examine the protective scratch off area on the back of the card to see if it has been tampered with.

Be on the lookout for mobile applications designed to steal your personal information from your smartphone. Such apps are often disguised as games and are often offered for free. Research the company selling or giving away the app and look online for third party reviews before installing an app from an unknown source.

Tickets to theater, concerts, and sporting events are always popular gifts during the holidays. If you purchase or receive tickets as a gift, do not post pictures of the tickets to social media sites. Protect the barcodes on tickets as you would your credit card number. Fraudsters will create a ticket using the barcode obtained from searching around social media sites and resell the ticket. You should never allow the barcode to be seen on social media.

If you are in need of extra cash at this time of year, beware of sites and posts offering work you can do from the comfort of your own home. Often, the work from home opportunities rely on convenience as a selling point for applicants with an unscrupulous motivation behind the posting. You should carefully research the job posting and individuals or company contacting you for employment.

As a consumer, if you feel you are a victim of an Internet-related crime, you may file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at http://www.IC3.gov

Here’s some additional tips you can use to avoid becoming a victim of cyber fraud:
• Check your credit card statement routinely.
• Protect your credit card numbers from “wandering eyes”.
• Do not respond to unsolicited (spam) e-mail.
• Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited e-mail.
• Be cautious of e-mail claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders. Scan the attachments for viruses if possible.
• Avoid filling out forms contained in e-mail messages that ask for personal information.
• Always compare the link in the e-mail to the link you are actually directed to and determine if they actually match and lead you to a legitimate site.
• Log on directly to the official website for the business identified in the e-mail, instead of “linking” to it from an unsolicited e-mail. If the e-mail appears to be from your bank, credit card issuer, or other company you deal with frequently, your statements or official correspondence from the business will provide the proper contact information.
• If you are requested to act quickly or there is an emergency, it may be a scam. Fraudsters create a sense of urgency to get you to act quickly.
• Verify any requests for personal information from any business or financial institution by contacting them using the main contact information on their official website.
• Remember if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Trick or Treat From Microsoft

Seems like Microsoft wanted to play their own version of “Trick or Treat” on Halloween. Last Friday, October 31st, Microsoft stopped providing Windows 7 Home Basic, Windows 7 Home Premium, and Windows 7 Ultimate licenses to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), including its PC partners and systems builders. This means you’ll only be able to buy a computer running Windows 7 as long as current stock lasts.

The only exception will be business computers running Windows 7 Professional, which will continue being sold for at least another year. The Windows Lifecycle chart for sales below summarizes the important dates we know.


The two asterisks for Windows 7 Professional in the last column point to an important note: “Microsoft will provide one year of notice prior to the end of sale date.” Since Microsoft hasn’t updated the chart yet with a new date, we can safely say Windows 7 Professional will still be sold until October 31, 2015, if not longer.

So if you still want a Windows 7 computer, for whatever reason, expect to be paying for Windows 7 Professional. As inventory runs out, you may even be charged a premium for a “business machine,” because OEMs know they can get away with it.

It’s also worth noting that Mainstream Support for Windows 7, including for Windows 7 Professional, will end sooner than that, on January 13, 2015. Microsoft could decide to extend Mainstream Support, so as to avoid selling it with only Extended Support offered, though it has not given any indication yet it will do so.

For those who don’t know, Mainstream Support includes free incident support, warranty claims, fixes for non-security as well as security bugs, plus design changes and feature requests. Extended Support consists solely of security updates.

Microsoft’s main goal now is to get Windows 10 out the door. That being said, it wants to keep its current customers, especially enterprises and businesses, satisfied. After all, one day they/we will be considering upgrading from Windows 7 or Windows 8 to the latest and greatest.

Another Win For The Little Guys

When we first heard about the CryptoLocker malware a year ago or so, I thought, as cybercrime goes, that’s about as bad as you can get.

CryptoLocker is a very malicious form of malware: unlike a virus infection, it totally blocks access to your data but leaves your computer and your software running just fine.

Then the demand, “Pay us $300 within three days, and you’ll get your data back. Otherwise… it’s gone forever.” The $300 payment buys you the 2048-bit RSA private key needed to unscramble your encrypted data.

But, as malicious as CryptoLocker and now CryptoWall 2.0 are, there is another contender in this game of hacker warfare.

Fake support calls
Fake support scammers are the people who phone you out of the blue (whether you are on the Do Not Call register or not) and, not to mince words, scare you heck out of you spouting lies about malware on your computer.

For $200 – $300 or so, the same price point as CryptoLocker, the scammers will fix your computer, but any “fix” you get is as bad or worse then the “problem” you didn’t have in the first place.

Many people have reported that these guys don’t just call once if you fail to cough up the $300. They often call again and again, with the calls getting more insistent – outright threatening, by many reports – and with no real hope that they will stop.

Dealing with the scam
It’s easy for us to say, “But all you have to do is hang up, so this scam could never work.” But it’s also easy to see how a well-meaning but not very technically savvy user, especially someone without a network of family or friends to ask for IT help, could be scared into paying up.

Imagine the questions that worried users might ask themselves:

  • Didn’t the caller say he was from Microsoft?
  • Didn’t he say that a virus on my computer was attacking his company’s servers?
  • Didn’t he find evidence of it in my system log, just as he predicted?
  • Isn’t most computer support done over the phone and online these days?
  • Isn’t this the third time he’s called, with the symptoms getting worse every time?
  • Can’t you get sued for a cyberattack because you didn’t have a virus scanner?
  • Won’t it end up costing $300 anyway, or even more, if I go to my local shop instead?

Demanding money with threats is what it sounds like to me, amounting to extortion or blackmail. And these guys have your phone number!

FTC takedown
With that in mind, it’s always a good thing when fake support callers get bagged and thanks to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Uttam Saha and Tiya Bhattacharya, who ran a company called Pairsys in Albany, New York, have been shut down by court order.

That may not sound like much, as I’m convinced that there are still MANY other individuals and groups perpetrating this scam but in this case, the settlement with the FTC will see the scammers’ operation shuttered and their assets frozen.

Indeed, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said:  ”We are pleased that the court has shut down the company for now, and we look forward to getting consumers’ money back in their pockets.”

There’s a lot of money to recover: the FTC claims that the pair have pulled in about $2,500,000 in the past two-and-a-half years.

Is it real punishment?
Of course, just giving the money back isn’t really a punishment for these 2 crooks, because they weren’t supposed to have it in the first place. It’s still a direct result for the FTC’s internet crime fighting efforts, so, “Well done, Bureau of Consumer Protection.”

The next question should be – how do you think the courts should punish fake support scammers?

Dealing with fake support calls
So if you have friends or family who have been pestered to the point of worry by fake support callers, here’s a short podcast you can tell them about. The podcast makes it clear that these guys are scammers (and why), and offers some practical advice on how to deal with them.

Avoiding fake support calls
https://soundcloud.com/sophossecurity/avoiding-fake-support-calls

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