Burglars of the future beware: the age of the smart lock is coming. There’s no shortage of entries into the space these days — in fact, it was just under a week ago that we spotted the lovely Yves Behar-designed August lock. Goji’s (whoever heard of a company named after a fruit?) got a pretty nice looking lock of its own, one it’s hoping to bring to the market with help from a $120,000 Indiegogo goal. Like August, Goji’s got a sleek disk design. In the place of the green and red dots, however, you’ll find blue text that greets the user by name. The lock features bank-level encryption and will send pictures of people as they enter in through the door for added security. You can unlock it using your smartphone and can send people digital keys with your mobile device. Goji’s expected to hit around December for $278 — though you can get in a bit cheaper through the aforementioned crowd funding campaign.
While you are hanging out on the Internet (in your underwear, maybe?) on a Saturday, kids that are smarter than either of us are out there getting ready to change the world. 18-year-old Eesha Khare (left), for instance, not only invented a supercapacitor that could someday be a phone battery that charges in just a couple of seconds; she also won $50,000 for it.
Khare is one of the three big winners from the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. She and 17-year-old Henry Lin (right)—who created a model that simulates thousands of galaxies—picked up Intel Foundation Young Scientist Awards. Meanwhile, 19-year-old Ionut Budisteanu won the Gordon E. Moore Award and $75,000 for his AI model that could lead to a cheaper self-driving car. Khare’s invention is the one with some really immediate potential though, and quick-charging phones is something we all want.
So far, the supercapcitor has only been tested to light up a LED, but it was able to do that wonderfully and the prototypes new format holds potential to be scaled. It’s also flexible and tiny, and should be able to handle 10,000 recharge cycles, more than normal batteries by a factor of 10.
It’s a great step in the right direction, especially since we all know that battery life is the most important feature a phone can have. But like all supercapcitor tech, it’s not exactly close to commercial development yet. But hey, if an (admittedly super smart) 18-year-old can get this stuff figured out, multi-national corporations with an even bigger cash profit incentive on the table should be able to as well, right? Hurry up already. I’ll take either solution so long as one comes soon.
For years now I’ve harangued relatives about their shoddy password practices. Either they use easily-hacked passwords or forget the passwords they’ve created—sometimes both.
If you won’t take it from me, beloved family, consider this Password Day (yes, apparently it’s a thing) statement from McAfee’s Robert Siciliano: "74% of Internet users use the same password across multiple websites, so if a hacker gets your password, they now have access to all your accounts. Reusing passwords for email, banking, and social media accounts can lead to identity theft and financial loss."
What’s the fix? It’s easier than you might think. For starters, head to Intel’s Password Grader to see just how easily cracked your current password is. (The site promises not to retain any information, though still recommends that you not use your actual password—so maybe just use something similar.)
From there you can scroll down to see a simple step-by-step process for making your "hackable" password "uncrackable." (There’s a longer and more informative version of this info graphic on Sicilian’s blog—and it doesn’t require you to use the Password Grader if you’d prefer not to.)
The key takeaway here is to avoid the usual mix of letters, numbers, and punctuation you’re often advised to use, and instead opt for an easier-to-remember passphrase.
So, for example, if your PC World password is something like "PCW0rldD4ve," you’d actually be better off with "I Love Reading PC World!" Sounds crazy, but as McAfee and Intel note, it’s not about complexity, it’s about length.
And you could adapt a similar passphrase to every other site you visit: "I Love Reading Facebook!", for example, and so on. Now you’ve got both diversity and simplicity in your corner. The only catch is that some sites won’t allow you to use spaces, and others may limit password length.
How’d you fare on the Password Grader, and what other methods have you employed to create a hack-proof password system? I know some folks are big fans of tools like LastPass, which can auto-generate (and auto-fill) complex passwords for you. Your thoughts?
It’s officially spring, so why is your computer still moving like it’s half frozen? After all those long winter nights surfing shady sites, it’s no wonder. Here’s how to give your most important devices a spring cleaning fit for a May Queen.
Clean It Out
The first thing you’ll want to do is clear out the riff-raff—unused programs and browser extensions, obsolete registry entries, and expired permissions. Uninstall unused and under-utilized programs on your desktop and laptop systems, clear out forgotten apps from your mobile devices (Sorry, Angry Birds Rio). Give your registry a scrubbing with CC Cleaner, a free program for both Windows and Mac, that will clear old registry entries (for PCs) as well as empty recycle bins, zero out recent document lists, and erase a variety of browser information—Temporary files, history, cookies, download history, form history—from the major browsers.
Also be sure to take a look through your browser’s extensions list and remove any rarely used features. The same goes for Google users: Go to your Google account’s security screen, select the “Connected applications and sites” option from the bottom of the list, and nix any old devices that you no longer own or operate.
Windows owners would do well to invest in a defragmenting program beyond the native OS offering. Defraggler, from Piriform, the makers of CC Cleaner, is a solid option—even the free version—for defragging all or just parts of your hard drive. Mac users, while not needing a full-feature defrag tool, will still benefit from DaisyDisk. This visualization software displays the relative sizes of files across the drive, allowing you to quickly spot and eliminate corpulent documents.
And whether you’re running a Mac or a PC, Android or iOS, make sure the OS is up to date and install any queued system or security revisions recommended by the system’s auto-update program. For mobile devices, be sure to update all of your on-board apps as well.
Lock It Down
Once you’ve tightened up the OS and toned your system’s basic performance, it’s time to boost its defenses. Update your firewall and antivirus software. I’m a huge fan of Vipre but AVG, Norton, Kasperski, and a slew of other developers offer programs with varying degrees of service, features, and pricing. Once updated, run the fullest, deepest, most complete scan your program offers, making sure to scan any attached external hard drives as well. For an added layer of protection, especially if your anti-virus suite doesn’t already do so, install and run a Spyware Removal tool such as SpywareBlaster.
Your Android-based mobile devices are not to be excluded from the security sweep either. Both Avast and AVG offer quality mobile anti-virus services—basic features are free, advanced options like the Lost/Stolen Phone Locator/Eraser features will cost cash. iOS users don’t need to take this step as thier mobile devices are protected by a cloud of smug that no digital virus can penetrate.
You’ll also do well to look into investing in a Password manager—at least one that doesn’t involve Post-Its surrounding your monitor. One Password by Agilebits is a very popular program as it allows users to manage and sync their password menageries across every desktop and mobile device— Mac, iOS, Android, or PC—using integrated Dropbox functionality for a one-time $50. What’s more, it also manages sensitive online shopping data, credit card numbers for example, as well.
If that’s too steep for your security requirements, at least audit your list of passwords to ensure you don’t have any duplicates and that your phrases are strong enough. Remember, an easy mnemonic like “If it’s going to be that kind of party” is infinitely more difficult for a computer to guess (and easier for you to remember) than any combination of letters, numbers, and characters you can devise.
Back It Up
Now that you’ve cleared away all the OS detrius and plugged any security leaks, it’s time to take a snapshot of the system for posterity—and for the next time your system randomly decides to catch fire. Both desktop OS include native backup support to secondary storage devices—either an external hard drive or recordable media. Make sure you back up your family photos, documents, home movies, naughty movies, and anything else you’ve either collected or stored on your computer.
While you can (and should) set an aggressive weekly schedule for this method of backup, it cannot provide the always-on protection afforded by online backup services, nor does it guard against larger crises like, say, a fire that destroys not just your laptop but the redundants as well. Online services such as Carbonite and Backblaze, instead tuck your data safely away in the cloud while allowing for easy file transfers (a la Dropbox) between your machines and mobile devices. These services do however cost money—both Carbonite and Backblaze charge $50-$60 annually to hold on to your data, for example—and offer differing layers of service so make sure to examine all your file security options before opening your wallet.
Wash It Off
Now that your devices’ insides are squeaky clean, it’s time to give them a thorough physical cleaning as well. Wipe down your monitors with a damp cloth, clean the gunk out of your mouse (if you don’t yet use a laser mouse) and wipe off your desktop tower and laptop exterior. Shake out and vacuum your keyboard, scrub the keys with a mild soap and water solution to remove oily buildup and remnants from the latte you spilled in there last week. If you use a desktop tower, now would be a good time to open the case and blow out any dust bunnies out of the fans.
Congratulations, your computer, nay, your entire personal digital ecosystem is now fit as a fiddle and ready for anything the Internet (and your perverse taste in backwater porn sites) can throw at it.
If you’re using your flash drive as a vehicle for simple file transfers, you’re missing out on one of the single-best roles one of these wee data buckets can fulfill. Indeed, hardcore enthusiasts know that simple flash drives are perfect portable repositories for all the software that can breathe life into an otherwise ailing PC.
All the web apps in the world won’t help you when your PC breaks down or falls prey to a particularly nasty piece of malware and refuses connect to the Internet. A properly loaded USB drive, on the other hand, can be a machine saver. And when your grandma calls with a dire PC emergency, you’ll be glad to have an always-ready "ninja drive" to slip into your pocket as you run out the door.
In this article we’ll show you how to load out a USB drive with everything you need in case of a PC emergency. So next time your computer breaks down, don’t panic. Instead, take a deep breath, plug in your ninja drive, and start making things right.
The Portable apps UI.
The first thing you’ll want to install on your drive is PortableApps—a free, open source platform for installing desktop applications on removable media, like a USB drive. PortableApps manages the installation of new portable software on your USB drive, and also acts as a frontend when you’re actually using the USB drive, letting you easily browse and launch applications.
PortableApps maintains a list of hundreds “portable” versions of popular free programs, designed to work without installation. You can find the full list here.
Each of the following apps with the word “Portable” in their title is available for the PortableApps platform. You can download them at the links provided, or just start PortableApps and click on Apps > Get More Apps. You’ll see a large list of applications appear. Just check the ones you want and click Next to download and install them all automatically.
Even though it’s not a maintenance application, strictly speaking, a mobile browser is a great inclusion on your emergency thumb drive. Why? A lot of malware targets your web browser, so it’s one of the most likely components of your system to be out of commission, or otherwise compromised. Chrome’s sandboxing security feature and Safe Browsing functionality—which guards against malicious websites and downloads—make it one of the better options for mucking around on a potentially infected system.
Spybot ain’t fancy, but it works well.
If your computer is running slow because of malware, Spybot S&D should be the first (and often last) weapon in your arsenal. It’s one of the oldest and best spyware removal suites around, and should be able to weed out most malware on even the slowest of machines.
ClamWin is a Windows graphical interface for the Clam open source antivirus engine. It doesn’t provide real-time scanning like you’d get in an installed antivirus application, but the portable versions provides powerful on-demand virus scanning for any suspicious files.
Many unofficial tech support geeks consider Malwarebytes to be a go-to malware scanning solution, but it doesn’t offer a portable version. You can, however, save the Malwarebytes installation file to your emergency drive and unpack the app directly onto the maligned PC after you’ve taken a first pass at badware using ClamWin and Spybot portable. A second opinion never hurts when you’re dealing with viruses.
When you need to root out stubborn malware, a rootkit detector does the trick.
If you’ve tried running malware removal programs like Spybot Search and Destroy but your computer is still exhibiting malware symptoms like bogus error messages and browser hijacking, you might be dealing with a rootkit. Rootkits are designed to conceal malware running on your system, and can be very hard to detect themselves. If you suspect your computer might be infected with one, try running TDSSKiller, a rootkit scanner from Kaspersky. Just leave the .exe file on your thumb drive, and run it on the infected computer—it will find and remove most rootkit malware.
Even if you’re not trying to uninstall whole programs, deleting files can prove to be a challenge—especially when you’re dealing with an infected system. Windows might tell you that access is denied to a file, or that another program or user is currently using it, or otherwise tell you that the file you want gone isn’t going anywhere at all.
FileAssassin lets you get around those roadblocks, and delete any file you want. Make sure you really want it gone, though, because it’s going to be.
When you snag the program, make sure to grab the portable version, at the bottom of the download list.
Sometimes the problem isn’t that you can’t delete a file, it’s that you want to make sure that it’s really, really gone. If you need to securely delete sensitive documents or files, use Eraser—an application for securely erasing and overwriting files and directories stored on standard mechanical hard drives. You can also user Eraser to overwrite all the empty space on a disk, making sure anything you’ve deleted in the past is truly gone.
Revo Uninstaller makes uninstalling lots of programs a breeze.
One of the simplest ways to get a gridlocked computer running faster is to remove programs that you don’t need. This has two benefits: you clear up hard disk space, which can speed up your computer, and you reduce the number of apps running at startup, which can make your boot time shorter. You can uninstall programs by hand, but that’s slow going and the programs aren’t always completely removed. Instead, keep a portable copy of Revo Uninstaller handy to quickly and completely uninstall as many programs as you want.
One of the main reasons that older systems gradually slow down is the accumulation of programs and services set to automatically run at startup. Autoruns is a powerful app from Sysinternals that shows you every single process that will start with your computer, along with other common sources of trouble, including browser toolbars and shell extensions. Telling a process to not run at startup is as simple as unchecking a box.
If you use KeePass to store your passwords (and if you don’t, you should think about it), it’s not a bad idea to keep your KeePass install and password database on a thumb drive. That way, you’ll always be able to access your online accounts, no matter what computer you’re on. Even better, you don’t have to worry about identity theft if you lose the USB drive, because the Keepass database is encrypted and requires a master password. Be careful about logging in to potentially infected computers with KeePass, though.
The other USB drive: SystemRescueCD
SystemRescueCD: Perfect for that oh-so-bonked PC.
If you want to be really, truly prepared for a PC disaster, you can go one step further than just creating an emergency app thumb drive. By loading up a second drive with a Live install of the SystemRescueCD operating system, you’ll be prepared even if your computer’s OS is so FUBARed that you can’t even log in.
SystemRescueCD is a free live operating system, meaning you don’t have to install it on a hard drive. Just insert the SystemRescueCD USB drive into the computer, restart, and boot from the thumb drive. The Linux-based operating comes equipped with software that you can use to access the data on your hard drives and back it up across the network, along with various other handy-dandy utilities—basically, everything you need to fix (or at least recover) as much of your broken OS as possible. The makers of the distribution were even kind enough to provide step-by-step instructions on how to get a SystemRescueCD live drive up and running.
Unlike the Eye-Fi wireless SD cards which lock you into a set amount of storage, PQI’s Air Card uses a microSD slot so that as the tiny cards get bigger and bigger, you can easily upgrade the adapter’s capacity.
And like the latest generation of the Eye-Ficards, the $50 PQI Air works with mobile devices thanks to an accompanying iOS and Android app. So you can share photos and get your snaps online without the need for a card reader or a USB connection to a PC. It works with three devices at once too, so you can send shots to your phone and tablet at the same time, and according to the PQI site it supports pretty much every popular camera on the market today.
1) Keep all your data backed up.
Put it on a disc, external HDD, upload it to a data safe website, another computer, somewhere! One place is NO GOOD, two places is OK, but once one fails, you need to create another second spot! This will save you from 99 to 149 dollars when you bring your computer in to Geek Squad right off the bat. NO manufacturer warranty covers your data, you need to do it yourself. Back up your pictures, contacts, documents, taxes, music and ANY business information you have.
2) Have recovery discs for each computer you have.
This is your licensed copy of your OS. These are specific to your computer’s guts (processor, mother board, sound and graphics cards) They have the drivers needed for your computer to use itself. Burn them right away when you get your computer on to DVDs and put them somewhere safe. It will take from 1-3 hours to do. If you loose them you can order them from your manufacturer for between 15 and 50 dollars, depending on the brand. HP is usually cheaper, Sony is wicked expensive. They take about 2 or 3 weeks to get in if you end up needing them when you replace a hard drive or need to fix windows. If you don’t get them that way, you can purchase a full copy of snow leopard for about 30 dollars, or windows 7 for about 200.
3) One antivirus at a time, please.
Two at a time is like pushing fat pigs through a dog door, neither can get inside correctly and they block each other from functioning properly. They can tear nasty holes in your operating system depending on which ones you’re trying to combine (seen it!) or at least SLOW YOU DOWN TO A CRAWL because two systems are trying to scan your every move as well as each other’s moves. More than one is usually LESS protection than one good one. Remove the old ones, even if they’re expired they’ll get in the way. YOUR COMPUTER CAME WITH A TRIAL OF SOMETHING, take it off if that’s not the one you’re gonna use! Most antivirus is 40 dollars for a year, but if you buy 2 or 3 licenses you usually get a deal.
4) Don’t install tool bars, they’re bloatware that will slow down your internet speeds.
You don’t need 5 of them, they take up most of the screen and will end up effecting performance.
5) "Free" stuff can be expensive:
Free games, movies, music taken from torrent sites, as well as pornography sites and even free social networking sites are riddled with viruses. Virus removal is 129-199. Be safe and smart on the internet. If you got a virus, it’s your own fault. Viruses are a software issue, and are considered private data, not covered by any warranties.
6) Computers don’t like liquids.
This includes water, coke, beer, soup, bodily fluids and excessive cleaners. Don’t spray screen cleaner directly on your screen, spray it on your cleaning cloth and then wipe. A stream of any liquid can cause damage. Computers also don’t like gravity or being punched. This will probably cause lots more damage and not fix a speed issue.
7) No computer is immortal.
Technology changes at an extremely fast rate. Average computer life span is 2-3 years for a laptop or closer to 4 for a desktop. This makes sense, because laptops undergo more stress: movement, impact, temperature changes, and are prone to overheating on a lap. Your computer takes electricity, and circulates through lots of things and gets hot. They burn out sometimes, but if you have your data backed up, you’ll be up and ready on a new one in no time.
You wouldn’t get mad at your mechanic because you don’t know how to change your oil, or your vet because you didn’t know how to take care of your dog. BE POLLITE to people in the service industry. They touch your grimy nasty computers full of skin, nicotine, pet hair, dust bunnies… and fix them if you can’t.