Tech Notes

Security Tips For The New Year

onlinesecurity2015 has brought attention to the fact that internet and computer security is more important than ever.  There are so many new threats out there that you have to stay on top of.  Thankfully there are some new technologies out there that can help you in the fight to protect your personal information.  Here are some tips on staying safe in 2016 when it comes to your electronics and the internet:

1.) Ensure that you allow updates and enable automatic updates.  Software companies are constantly patching their software in response to new threats.  Even the best of us, however, can get behind or lazy when it comes to downloading and installing the updates.  This is why we highly recommend allowing automatic updates.  Most of the time these updates are in regards to security and fixing security holes.  This is why it’s essential to update.  Hackers and cyber-thieves will often have ways to sniff out who is still using old versions of software so that they can attack.

2.) Enable an anti-spyware software program.  Sometimes spyware can sneak its way onto your computer and avoid detection from antivirus software.  Spyware is not quite the same as a virus – it’s actually a program that can sometimes be discreetly installed – with or without your knowledge.  Sometimes spyware piggybacks with other software, and other times it can install itself from a website.  There are many good programs out there that can help you to detect and remove spyware, such as Spyhunter and Malwarebytes.  We Hate Malware has a great writeup of Spyhunter, including its pros and cons.  You don’t want to leave spyware on your computer for very long as it could have the potential to sniff out your personal information.

3.) Enable a password manager.  Many people are skeptical of password managers such as Lastpass because they think that the password manager will get hacked.  While this is a distant possibility, LastPass uses a very sophisticated method of encryption that should be very effective against any sort of hacking.  While too difficult to explain here, the small risk of using a password manager such as LastPass is much less than the other method that many people use — using the same password for many sites.  Let’s face it, we can’t keep track of different passwords for all the sites we use so most people just use the same one.  However, LastPass will enable you to use a unique, difficult to crack password for all of the sites that you visit.  In other words, if a cyber criminal manages to get one of your passwords he won’t be able to log into ALL of your accounts.  It’s something to think about.

4.) Stop visiting bad internet neighborhoods.  It’s time to stop downloading files from file sharing sites and using torrent sites.  It’s time to stop the online gambling and the adult sites.  Most malware and viruses come from these bad internet neighborhoods and it can be almost impossible to stop them sometimes.  They can come directly from the website itself, and you might not have control over it at all, especially if it’s an infected pop up window.

Some PC History

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It’s easy to forget just how far we’ve come in the last 20 years in terms of computing power.  Back in 1994 $3,000 got you a computer with barely the technology that goes into a low end cell phone these days.

The PowerPC chip represents a fairly new approach to microcomputing. Computers with this Motorola chip are an early result of the alliance between Apple and IBM. Both companies are producing computers based on the new chip, called the Power Macintosh and the Power System, respectively. Power Macs were the first to be available early this year, followed by the Power Systems in the fall.

The PowerPC uses RISC (reduced instruction set computing) technology, a concept developed in the minicomputer and UNIX workstation environments. In theory at least, RISC processors, like the PowerPC, are more efficient than 80×86 processors, because they have a smaller set of instructions that the CPU can execute, making them “leaner.” The PowerPC also has several hundred thousand fewer transistors than the Pentium, making it cheapter to manufacture. Plans for the future of PowerPC-based computers call for more independence of the hardware and software. IBM especially wants to reduce the dependence of software on machine-based “firmware,” such as the need for the BIOS portion of DOS to reside in a ROM chip within an 80×86 PC. This strategy will help make it simpler to change hardware and software to match each other as they evolve. To support this goal, IBM has issued an interesting “standards” document called PReP, the PowerPC Reference Platform. PReP defines the requirements that a computer manufacturer must meet in order to build a compatible PowerPC clone. In addition to basic compatibility issues, PReP also defines different classes of computers, such as desktop, notebook, server, etc. It remains to be seen how many manufacturers will adhere to the PReP standards.

Although PowerPC machines are able to run existing Mac and DOS software (indeed they must, if they are to be viewed as replacements for existing equipment), the real benefits of the new architecture will not be evident until newer, more powerful operating systems take full advantage of them. At this point, it is not clear whether the emerging 32-bit systems, like Windows NT or OS/2, will evolve to match the PowerPC, or if a totally new system will emerge.

Previous attempts to redefine PC hardware radically, as in the IBM PS/2 with its MicroChannel bus, and the NeXT computer, have been expensive and disappointing lessons for manufacturers. The PowerPC initiative, being a well-planned joint venture, seems more likely to succeed. But it is far too early to tell if it will eclipse the 80X86.

Delfino, Erik. “1994: a review of the PC year.” Database Dec. 1994: 91+

It’s always very interesting to look back and see what the history of computers looks like, as it’s easy to take our present technology for granted.