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How cookies work in your browser.

Cookies may sound like they have something to do with delicious baked goods, but in terms of the Internet, they are simply small text files that allow a website to store information related to the user of the computer. These files are contained on the user’s computer, usually in the web browser’s folder.

The web browser itself will look for cookies in the computer folder specified for storing cookies. The browser will then open the file that is requested from a certain website, if one exists. If no cookie file exists, a new one will be created.

In addition, browsers regularly maintain cookies. Cookies also specify expiration dates. When these dates are reached, the browser will automatically delete the file from the computer.

Websites can also use cookies for statistical information, like tracking how many users visit the site, how many return, and which pages they visit. This is possible because websites can assign user IDs to computers, which are tracked using cookies. A counter in the cookie file can be set to increase every time the website is accessed by a computer with the same ID.

Cookies provide an easy way to customize and maintain the look of webpages to a user’s need, and it streamlines the services they provide. However, many people believe cookies may be a threat to personal security. While it is true that cookies collect a user’s information, they are not programs that can be run on the computer. Therefore, they are not viruses or any malicious programs that can read or erase information from a hard drive, and they will not cause pop-ups.

There are still drawbacks. Cookies can be intercepted as they are being relayed from website to computer. Recently a cookie exploitation called Firesheep, and allowed people to log on other users’ Facebook and Twitter accounts.

While people still debate whether the benefits of cookies outweigh the threats that they may pose, in the long run, cookies make the Internet more convenient and dynamic.

adapted via thetartan.org

  • 11/02/2010
  • IT

Labor Day – History and Tradition

Labor Day is a U.S. federal holiday observed on the first Monday in September. The first Labor Day in the United States was celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City, it became a federal holiday in 1894, and all 50 U.S. states have made Labor Day a state holiday in the years following.

Traditionally, Labor Day is celebrated by most Americans as the symbolic end of the summer. The holiday is often regarded as a day of rest and parties. In U.S. sports, Labor Day marks the beginning of the NFL and college football seasons. NCAA teams usually play their first games the week before Labor Day, with the NFL traditionally playing their first game the Thursday following Labor Day.

The enactment of the federal holiday in 1894, followed the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike, President Grover Cleveland put reconciliation with the labor movement as a top political priority. Fearing further conflict, legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was rushed through Congress unanimously and signed into law a mere six days after the end of the strike. The September date was chosen as Cleveland was concerned that aligning an American labor holiday with existing international May Day celebrations would stir up negative emotions linked to the Haymarket Affair.

The form for the celebration of Labor Day was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday: A street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,” followed by a festival for the workers and their families. This became the pattern for Labor Day celebrations. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civil significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

adapted via Wikipedia

Free Wi-Fi – Worth the risk?

Wi-Fi has become virtually a staple in our technologically-enhanced lives. Its convenience increases productivity in countless industries, academics and even the family home. Retail establishments such as Panera Bread, McDonald’s and Barnes & Noble offer free Wi-Fi in their stores as an amenity to get customers to browse and buy their products. While “free Wi-Fi” might seem like a no-brainer, customers should keep in mind the inherent risks of free Wi-Fi.

What’s the Big Deal? It’s free
Since it’s free, most establishments do not use Wi-Fi encryption to secure their respective networks thus offering hackers a way to steal your usernames and passwords. Some explained the reason for using unencrypted 802.11g was to ensure maximum compatibility between communication devices.

A Hacker’s Hotspot
“Wardriving” is the idea of driving around town and looking for a Wi-Fi network that is unencrypted or has weak encryption and can be easily cracked. With zero or minimal security, a Wardriving Hacker can intercept, unscramble and figure out the information being sent between a customer’s laptop to the Wireless Access Point of an establishment. Another tactic that can easily swipe your login credentials is a Rogue Access Point. In this case, a hacker can set up a Wireless Access Point that imitates the true Access Point. If your notebook connects to this Rogue Access Point, you won’t see any difference as the hacker can duplicate the log-in screen with near 100% accuracy. This is like phishing, where you receive an alert email from your bank or credit card company asking you to click on their link and “verify” your account is okay by logging in.

What You Can Do
There are a few steps you can take to minimize the chance of your information getting stolen:

  1. Make sure your passwords are long and are fairly unique. Having “SMITH_1980” as one of your passwords wouldn’t be difficult to crack.
  2. Turn on you computers firewall and make sure your security software is up to date.
  3. When logging in, pay attention to the URL address along with any inconsistencies with the log-in page (i.e. spelling, inaccurate pictures).
  4. Check to make sure your laptop is connected to the correct Wi-Fi network and not to one with a questionable name.
  5. Access your banking and credit card accounts at home so as to minimize the chance of being a victim of financial identity theft.
  6. Speak to your employer’s IT department about a VPN connection. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and allows you to connect to your company’s network in a secure way.

In Conclusion
 By knowing the risks associated with free Wi-Fi service, you can minimize the chance of a security breach and possible identity theft.

Adapted via Geeks.com

  • 08/12/2010
  • IT

32-bit vs. 64-bit Computing?

Sixty four bit, has been around since the beginning of computing, but it wasn’t in the mainstream marketplace until just a few years ago.  You’ve probably seen that Windows® 7 comes in 32 and 64-bit version and wondered what the difference is.  Trying not to get too technical, we will explain the difference.

The Difference:
32-bit and 64-bit refer to the size of data in terms of integer values. CPUs and memory simply support 64-bit long values. It’s easy to think about it in terms of literal addresses, too.  Say you have a phone book, we’ll call it a the 32-bit phone book, and the integers are the contact information for people.  The 32-bit phone book can list a total of over 4 billion (4,000,000,000) addresses/integers.  Contrast that with the range of 64-bit addressing, which is over 18 quintillion (18,000,000,000,000,000,000) addresses/integers, you can say that the “64-bit phone book” would be able to store the names and contact information for all the people that ever were or will be on the planet.  For your computer, this gives you support for more system memory (RAM), and that means better multitasking and generally improved performance and speed.

How to get it:
It’s easy to get a 64-bit system now.  Many new computers, applications, and operating systems are designed around the 64-bit architecture.  Due to both availability and price, your average desktop computer system supports between 8 GB and 16 GB memory maximum, with high-performance motherboards, systems, and servers supporting much higher total, but still nowhere near the theoretical limit of the 64-bit range.  That’s just fine because buying anything near a petabyte (PB) of memory in this day and age would be a poor decision.

Just go with it:
The obvious benefit to having more memory (RAM) in your system is that it lets you hold more data in a place that the CPU can access quickly.  Your RAM is a much faster resource than using virtual memory that your hard drive needs to store, in part because of the way the data is stored, on chips, and because of the speed of the interfaces.  You may notice when your system is low on available RAM, it begins to chug and hang; that’s your hard drive trying to keep up with the speedy demands of the CPU.

So the bottom line is the 64-bit architecture gives you the capacity to last for many years to come, even considering how fast technology advances.

Please note: Although 64bit versions of the OS are faster at alot of things there are still a number of applications that either flat out don’t work on a 64bit OS or have minor to major issues.

If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact us.

  • 08/11/2010
  • IT

8 Reasons To Switch To Windows 7

There are no doubts about the fact that Windows 7 was received with open arms by not only the average computer user, but also by people who jump on every opportunity of criticizing Microsoft. The company drew a lot of flak for Vista, and a huge number of PC users were so frustrated that they went back to XP. But Windows 7 has changed the game altogether. If you are still thinking about a switch to Windows 7 and have some doubts in mind then this article aims to clear the air.

1. Best operating system by Microsoft to date
Yes, Windows 7 is the best Windows version till date in all aspects, and the great thing is most of the software and tools that work in Vista should work in this OS too.

2. Task-bar & Jump Lists
You can quickly pin programs to the task bar, slide and arrange items, and do much more. Another great new feature called jump-lists makes it easy to quickly jump to the frequently used folders and files. There are third-part tools too, like the Jump-list Launcher that let you build customized jump-lists.

3. Better security & interface
Windows 7 looks stylish and better. Features like Aero Snap and Aero Peek make it fun working in the new operating system. Security has been enhanced too. They have taken care of the User Account Control feature, one of the biggest annoyances of Vista users. In Windows 7, it is more flexible and you can actually choose the alert level for User Account Controls.

4. Speed
Quickly get to the welcome screen after press the On button. And not just that, you can see the difference when working with different applications. It’s performance is definitely much better than Vista.

5. Better integration with hardware
Windows 7 supports advanced hardware like touch-screens, is compatible with different kinds of computer parts (much better than Vista) and automatically installs device drivers for new hardware.

6. Upgrading from XP is easy
If you are one of those who switched back to XP after your terrible experience with Vista, and aren’t sure about upgrading to Windows 7, then there is good news – Windows 7 has been built in a way that it supports most of the apps supported by XP and hence upgrading isn’t that difficult.

7. The XP Mode
If you do find a program which you use frequently on XP and it refuses to run on Windows 7, then you could use the Windows 7 XP mode to run Windows XP in a virtual mode right inside Windows 7. Cool, isn’t it? But Remember you must have the Professional or Ultimate Editions.

Which on is right for you?

  • 05/28/2010
  • IT

How to stay safe shopping online?

Shopping online does carry some risk, but so does shopping at brick-and-mortar stores. So we have put together eleven tips to help you shop securely online.

1.  Click Carefully
The time to find out whether a page is bad, is BEFORE you load it into your web browser. Employ a URL scanning tool to ensure you don’t click on links that lead to infected web pages. The majority of existing service providers use a “databank” to obtain this information, which means the information is outdated and exposes you to unnecessary risks. AVG LinkScanner does the searching for you in real time; all links are scanned for you to ensure you can make an informed decision.

2.  Be “S” Secure
Always make sure the websites you are purchasing from are secure and have “https://” (as supposed to the traditional http://) in the URL when you are in the checkout/purchase process. Rule of thumb: the “S” ensures security. When you are in the secure section of a website, you will also see an icon of a locked padlock either on the address bar or on the bottom right corner. This ensures your information stays intact, without the interference from any outsiders.

3.  Stay current on security software
This means making sure you have the latest virus protection software updates from your security software provider. Unfortunately it’s not always possible to stem the flow of malware. As technology keeps developing, so does the malware. However, if you are up-to-date with your antivirus software, you are staying one step ahead, and your information is unlikely to be compromised.

4.  Keep your private information private
Create a separate e-mail account that is solely for online shopping use. Email is FREE with Google/Yahoo. Make sure you use a unique password, which is different from any of the other accounts you may have. Your dedicated shopping e-mail account should be in no way affiliated with your personal, everyday e-mail account/s. Make sure you keep a record of all your online shopping; remember to always print e-mail confirmations as well as any other confirmation pages that might be offered by the online retailer and save these in a secure place. The printed confirmation pages will work as insurance for you if anything was to go wrong and your information ends up in the wrong hands.

5.  Mix up your passwords
Each shopping account, bank account, credit card account and e-mail account should have a unique password. Many of us keep the same password as we think it makes our lives easier. Everyone should write the passwords down and keep the information in a secure location; for example store them in a drawer, rather than on your computer. By ensuring unique passwords are used for each account, you will make it tougher for the online thieves to steal your personal information. See password article for ideas

6.  Watch out for scams
If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers are very cunning. Cross-check information on the internet and see if anyone else has had problems. Be extremely wary of anything that is offered in an unsolicited or spam email. Visit www.ongaurdonline.gov for more ways to protect yourself against internet scams.

7.  Pay Safely
Paypal or Google Checkout are preferred; but remember it is better to use a credit card for purchases than debit cards, as they offered a higher level of protection. Under federal law, credit card issuers can only hold customers liable for the first $50 of fraudulent transactions, and most issuers will waive even that amount. Further Verified by Visa and Mastercard SecureCode are security initiatives put in place that offer another level of security if a fraudster does have your card and tries to use it for an online purchase. This is technology put in place by card companies to make things make more difficult for criminals.

8.  Don’t install “money saving” software
Beware of web pages with special offers or coupons that require software installation. Agreeing to the installation of one program is often a backdoor for unwarranted programs, malware and spyware. Always check the end-user agreement before you click ‘agree’ and if the program you want also installs other programs, cancel the application. Sometimes, you never know what you’re agreeing to.

9. Trust your instincts
If you don’t feel comfortable buying or bidding on an item over the web, or if you feel pressured to place your order immediately, maybe you shouldn’t.

10.  Shop From a Secure PC
If possible, avoid using the family PC that your teens or children use to chat with their buddies and play games online. Those machines are often already infested with spyware. An infected system will undermine all of the other precautions you might take to avoid online fraud. Before you start shopping online, make sure your system is running with up-to-date anti-virus software, and that you’re using a firewall to block potential intruders. Just as important, be sure that your computer has the latest Microsoft software security updates installed.

11.  Know the merchant
If you’re not familiar with the merchant, do a little research like typing its name (and perhaps the word “scam”) into a search engine to see if there are any reports of scams. Look for user reviews on sites like Eopinions.com. Look for seller ratings if you locate the merchant through a shopping search engine like Google Shopping . Google doesn’t certify the integrity of the sites that come up in its searches, but if you see lots of seller ratings that are mostly positive, that’s a pretty good sign. You’re generally pretty safe with sellers that are affiliated with shopping aggregators like Amazon.com or Yahoo Shopping.

  • 05/25/2010
  • IT

Web Coupons: Friend or Foe

Web Coupons Know Lots About You, and They Tell. For decades, shoppers have taken advantage of coupons. Now, the coupons are taking advantage of the shoppers.

A new breed of coupon, printed from the Internet or sent to mobile phones, is packed with information about the customer who uses it. While the coupons look standard, their bar codes can be loaded with a startling amount of data, including identification about the customer, Internet address, Facebook page information and even the search terms the customer used to find the coupon in the first place. And all that information follows that customer into the store.

Using coupons to link Internet behavior with in-store shopping lets retailers figure out which ad slogans or online product promotions work best, how long someone waits between searching and shopping, even what offers a shopper will respond to or ignore. The coupons can, in some cases, be tracked not just to an anonymous shopper but to an identifiable person.

Using coupons also lets the retailers get around Google privacy protections. Google allows its search advertisers to see reports on which keywords are working well as a whole but not on how each person is responding to each slogan. Google has built privacy protections into all Google services and report Web site trends only in aggregate, without identifying individual users. The retailers, however, can get to an individual level by sending different keyword searches to different Web addresses. The distinct Web addresses are invisible to the consumer, who usually sees just a Web page with a simple address at the top of it.

While companies once had a slim dossier on each consumer, they now have databases packed with information. And every time a person goes shopping, visits a Web site or buys something, the database gets another entry. None of the tracking is visible to consumers. The coupon can also include retailers’ own client identification numbers (Jill Jones might be client No. 67543289), then the retailer can connect that with the actual person if it wants to, for example, to send a follow-up offer or a thank-you note.

The companies argue that the coupon strategy gives them direct feedback on how well their marketing is working. Once the shopper prints an online coupon or sends it to his cellphone and then goes to a store, the clerk scans it. The bar code information is sent and analyzed. Many say they avoid connecting that number with real people to steer clear of privacy issues, but you the consumer can not make that match.

The retailer can also make that connection when it is offering coupons to its Facebook fans. The coupon efforts are nascent, but coupon companies say that when they get more data about how people are responding, they can make different offers to different consumers.

Already, there is no lack of examples where people have fallen prey to “too-good-to-be-true” offers. One case in point was an iPad scam which promised users they could sign up as iPad testers and keep the device for free thereafter. The scammers were, in fact, harvesting mobile numbers for subscription to a premium-rate cellphone service.

Companies can “offer you, perhaps, less desirable products than they offer me, or offer you the same product as they offer me but at a higher price,” said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the United States Public Interest Research Group, which has asked the Federal Trade Commission for tighter rules on online advertising. “There really have been no rules set up for this ecosystem.”

That alarms privacy advocates. In any case, the solution to avoiding such scams is, in reality, very simple, read the privacy policy, if it isn’t clear or you can’t find it, why not simply forgo the discount? The general rule of thumb is if in doubt, leave it out.

via nytimes.com

  • 05/24/2010
  • IT

What is Spyware? How Does it Work?

If your computer starts slowing down, crashing or behaving in a strange manner then it may have been infected by spyware, but what is it and how does it work?


Privacy Invasion

Spyware is a breed of program that spies on your computer behavior. These intrusive and sometimes malicious bugs hide in the corners of your system harvesting valuable information about where you go and what you do online. It then passes your personal details to hackers or unscrupulous advertisers without you knowing. The information collected can then be used to bombard you with pop-up ads or just choke up your computer so that it slows down or crashes.

Spyware can scan files on your hard drive, monitor private chat programs and read cookies. Certain websites have been known to infect visitors with spyware so that they can sell them software they claim would remove it. At the very worst spyware can steal your credit card information.

Secret Infestation

Spyware is alarmingly common in computers, usually without their users being aware. Unprotected computers in particular are often found to have a variety of different types of spyware running simultaneously. Although the creators want to remain as inconspicuous as possible, they are often badly coded and as a result interfere the computer operating system, making it slow down or crash.

Spyware is not illegal and not necessarily always up to no good; some legitimate marketing companies collect anonymous data for valid reasons and can be fairly open about what they collect.

More often than not, however, spyware is just created to make money in a devious manner, either by picking up referral fees on adverts or by exploiting stolen private information. Its potential for harm far outweighs any benefits, and users are advised to try to avoid it all costs.

Adware and Malware

The term spyware is often used interchangeably with adware and malware, two slightly different but no less bothersome program types. Adware installs secret advertising software on your computer that can generate pop-up ads or hijack your homepage or the links in web pages so you are taken to a different website than you want, typically a dubious commercial site.

Malware, short for malicious software, is usually designed to simply wreak damage to your computer system, much like a virus, or pass on your password to hackers.

Where Am I Picking Up Spyware?

Spyware is not something that affects all web-users equally; it tends to lurk in the web’s darker recesses and prey on those with a fondness for free things.

If you frequent less reputable websites and download dubious files and software then you are putting yourself at a much greater risk of falling victim than if you are a light and casual browser of respected websites. Spyware doesn’t just grab onto your computer as you innocently go about your daily surfing, it needs an entry point, usually this is either in tricking the user into downloading something or, more commonly, when the user downloads something other software or file.

This might be free software, peer-to-peer file swapping programs – spyware companies pay these services to bundle spyware into their downloads – or a program that claims will grant the user access to tons of free films and music.

Typically these prey on users who want something for nothing. As with anything in life if it sounds too good to be true then it usually is.

Prevention

Spyware is typically caused by disreputable websites and programs and so naturally it is best to avoid such websites when searching for preventative measures. Always opt for respected virus and anti-spyware software.

Alternatively, as spyware is almost exclusively an Internet Explorer and thereby a Windows issue, you could always opt to switch browsers and even operating systems.

Security updates in Windows and Internet Explorer have made great strides in attempting to deal with the problem but ultimately the control rests with the user. Stay protected and don’t download something without first knowing what it is.

BWS Technologies can protect you from these threats with IndigoGUARD (learn more)

Adapted from DIY SPY

  • 05/14/2010
  • IT

Spend Five Minutes a Day Outdoors to Increase Self-Esteem

According to a study released just in time for summer, a mere five minutes of fresh air and exercise a day can improve mental health.

Researchers at the University of Essex looked at data from 1,252 people of different ages, genders and mental health status taken from 10 existing studies in Britain, they found that people who participated in “green activity” such as walking, gardening, or biking for at least five minutes —tended to have higher self-esteem and better moods.

Exercise is healthy, but it isn’t always easy to find large chunks of time to get out every day, even if you are doing it at the office. However no matter how busy you are, it shouldn’t be impossible to find five minutes to play fetch with your dog in the backyard, or go for a quick walk around the block and say “hey” to the neighbors.

Note that “green activity” refers not just to exercise, but the presence of nature.

via reuters.com

Does a Facebook group reveal Disney’s most shocking hidden message?

No… However the pursuit has led to the development of suspicious pages on Facebook. Sophos, warned that at the time of writing, over a million facebook users have already become fans of these pages.

This is a warning for everyone who might be lured into joining a Facebook group to learn about Disney’s Most Shocking Hidden Messages.

After you “like or become a fan” of the groups, it requires you spam your friends to see the “hidden message.”

Users who completed the series of steps required to reveal Disney’s most shocking hidden message report that the endgame is to navigate you to virus-laden survey sites. A virus expert at Sophos confirms the malware link and urges Facebook users to avoid the fan page like the plague.

Is the temptation of finding out Disney’s dirty secrets too great? Snopes has an entire page devoted to many Disney legends here.

  • 05/03/2010
  • IT