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Multi-Factor Authentication

So you read my last post on safe passwords and now you want to be even more secure. How do you do that? The easiest way (which just so happens to be the solution that most of the tech world uses nowadays) is multi-factor authentication. This is an idea that allows you to combine different types of login credentials so that you and only you can log into your accounts.

Multi-factor authentication largely depends on the existing password infrastructure. You have a password, you put it in, the website counts that as the first factor. Then, it’s up to the web developers as to what other kinds of factors they use. Some could use fingerprint or iris scans, others might send a one-time password to your phone, and others might require a second password, but this is less secure. The point is that if some malicious entity has your login credentials, they can only get so far. They can put in your username and password, but when they have to check your phone for the one-time password, they’re out of luck. Let’s say, hypothetically, that they do have your phone and put in the one-time password. They’re prompted for your fingerprint and are foiled. Your data is behind many walls. You’re safe.

This can use as many steps as you or the developer chooses. The most common today is two-factor authentication, but places that require more security can use four, five, or even six layers of this. It works because it assumes that even if the hacker or thief has all of the information that they think they need, there’s something along the chain that they’re missing. Of course, if they have your unconscious body and can use your fingerprint they can get in, but I think you have other things to worry about at that point.

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Password Security

With the internet as big as it is, there are quite a few bad fish in the sea. They’re out to take advantage of anyone they can, and that may be you. How can you mitigate this? One of the easiest ways to protect yourself and your online presence is to keep your passwords diverse, complicated, and secure.

By having a different password for each site you use, you eliminate the vulnerability that exists in having one password for everything. Although you may be able to keep it in your head and never written down anywhere, the websites you log into have a database of logins – and yours is in there. If one of your favorite websites were to be hacked, your password would be out there. The hackers can then make educated guesses as to other sites you might log into, put in a similar or identical username, and try your password. By using a different password for every login, you ensure that they can’t access anything else.

A complicated password is also critical for your security. pass1234 is easy for hackers to crack. FJ#82_9’2;@6f.W//`dv” is not easy for hackers to crack. It would take thousands of years for a decently powerful computer to brute force its way through that password. And if you’ve followed my advice to diversify your passwords, you’ll have a bunch of different complex strings of characters, symbols, and numbers that no computer or human can crack. If there’s anyone out there who’s really dedicated to hacking specifically you, they’re going to have a hell of a time.

Okay you’re secure, but how are you supposed to remember all these passwords? Well, there’s a few methods. The most secure would be to remember them all, but that’d be near impossible. You could be like my mom and write them all down in a notebook, but that can be lost, stolen, or forgotten on a road trip. How could she check Facebook if her password is at home? The method that I recommend is that you find yourself a secure password management service. Do your research; make sure they’re using the latest encryption techniques and haven’t had security breaches in the past. Some even come with nifty features like sharing, autofill, and cross-device compatibility.

Stay safe, people. Protect your  online presence with the best passwords you can.

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How a Microphone Works

You’re playing an online game with your friends when your boss calls you. “Be right back!” you tell them. You answer the call and greet your boss, who tells you that you’re needed at work tomorrow. You hang up and curse under your breath, but your friends heard you.

All communication in the above scenario has been sponsored by the microphone! Yes, folks, the device that’s been bringing you someone else’s voice for 140 years is still here, and better than ever! Modern microphones are a technological wonder, capturing sound waves and sending them thousands of miles away. How do they do it? To understand this, we first need to understand sound waves. Your voice – or any sound for that matter – is a standing wave that is set up using the air particles around you. Your vocal folds create subtle but powerful pressure changes in the air in your throat, and these pressure changes propogate out in to the world around you. Inside of your microphone, there is a small membrane of metal, plastic, paper, etc. known as the diaphragm. As the pressure in the air changes, the diaphragm moves back and forth with the air particles. Attached to the diaphragm is a small magnet, which is pushed in and out of a coil of wire. The moving magnet causes changes in the magnetic field around the coil, which induces a current. Different volumes, pitches, and types of noises will vary the current that is induced, which is how a microphone can pick up such a wide variety of sounds. The generated current is translated into digital binary by either a small built in processor (in the case of a USB microphone) or some hardware implementation like a soundboard. The digital content is then sent across the country to your friends, or down the road to your boss.

It’s pretty amazing how something so common in our everyday lives can take some air particles that were wiggling around in your throat, turn them into ones and zeros, and send them wherever you want. Thank you, electrophysics!

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On Ethernet Cables

I’m sure you’ve seen the blue wires stuck up above your ceiling tiles at work or in your basement. Those are ethernet cables that are run from your home’s switch or patch panel and terminate at the ethernet jacks in your wall. They’re functionally the same as the ethernet cable that plugs into the back of your motherboard, but these are behind-the-scenes and not intended to be seen. They ensure that you stay connected and have the quickest connection possible. But quickness wasn’t always an option. Continue reading On Ethernet Cables

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Tech Recycling

It takes a whole lot of engineering to make a device work as well as possible. As I’m sure you know by now, electrical engineers and hardware engineers like to use valuable materials in their products, as these materials often have desirable properties. Gold and silver, for example, conduct electricity extremely well, and neodymium is a powerful paramagnetic substance. Aluminum is used in surplus, so this is less desirable, but it is recycled nonetheless.

When you give your old devices to a tech recycler, you are one of millions that do the same. In this way, recyclers are able to obtain thousands of tons of material in bulk at a very low price, so they earn much more than their money back when the device is through. This is why they can make money this way, but you or I cannot; we just don’t have the resources to get massive quantities of technology.

When they first bring in the electronic scrap, most of it consists of old PCB. This type of waste is relatively easy to obtain gold from and results in a high return on investment. They separate the PCB material from other waste via magnets, filters, and conveyor belts, which take the PBCs to a shredder which will completely tear apart the waste. The shreds are then left in a solvent, which will completely dissolve the printed fiberglass and leave just the copper, gold, silver, aluminum, platinum, etc. This scrap metal is then separated again to ease the rest of the process. Many recyclers have their own methods for doing this, including but not limited to using a mixture of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid (otherwise known as Aqua Regia) to dissolve out the gold and platinum, but leave other metals untouched. Regardless of the process chosen, the separate metals are then melted down and purified so that they can be sold. This typically results in an impressive profit, but another benefit that these companies receive is tax benefits. Tech recycling is a huge industry, and without them, landfills would be overflowing with random tech junk.

So go ahead and let your old junk go. It might end up in your spouse’s wedding ring later in life.

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Pros and Cons of a VPN

For the uninitiated, a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a great way to ensure that your internet connection is secure, private, and encrypted. There’s a lot to them, and I’m not going to delve too deep into them, but this is definitely something that everyone should look into.

The basic idea is that you pay a VPN provider for their service. In return, you send all of your internet traffic to them through a tunnel that nobody can get through but you. This tunnel is virtual, it is private, and it acts just like a network. This is where the name comes from. Nobody but the provider can see the traffic. For a better idea, here are three pros and three cons of using a VPN to protect yourself online. Continue reading Pros and Cons of a VPN

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Why you should repair your phone

Have you ever dropped your smartphone, or it just simply won’t hold a charge?  Well if you go to your local cellular retailer, unless you have insurance, you may be in for some serious sticker shock.  A new flagship phone may cost at least $700, up from the old days when carriers gave you a discounted or even free phone in exchange to being on contract for two years.  Now, unless you can afford to outright buy a phone, you finance it at 0% interest for two years.

Apple care charges about $130 for a screen replacement, if you have apple care.  This is in addition to the purchase of the apple care plan beforehand.  Most phones cost no more than $150 to repair the screen, and about $100 for a simple battery swap, assuming that the battery is non removable.  If you can remove the battery yourself by removing the cover, it is significantly cheaper of course.

We do not service phones here at Bendy Computers, or repair hardware of any kind, but are more than happy to refer you to someone who can.  In Maryland, Beyond Electronics at White Marsh Mall is a full fledged store offering repairs and used phones that we recommend.  I have personally used them, and can attest to their quality workmanship.

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What is OpenOffice, and why should I use it?

Open Office is an open source suite of productivity software. It is made  by the same people who make the very popular Apache web-server software.  It includes a word processor, spreadsheet program, presentation program, graphic design program, and database program.   Not only is it 100% free, it is light on system resources, can save in Microsoft and PDF formats, in addition to it’s own format.  Why pay for an office subscription forever when you can get the same thing for free?  https://www.openoffice.org/  If you need help setting it up, we can do that remotely for $15 for you.

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What an IP Rating is and why you should care

Many people have heard that the latest flagship phones from Sony, Samsung, and Apple have water resistance.  Maybe you have read the box and noticed something called an, “IP Rating”.  IP, stands for ingress protection.  Basically, how well does the product stand up to entry of both solid particles like dust, and liquids like water.

The first number is for solid protection and goes from 0, for no protection, to 6, for total protection.  The second number is for liquid protection, 0 for none, to 9k for protection against close-range high pressure, high temperature spray downs.

Almost all phones marketed as, “waterproof,” have a solid protection rating of 6.  This means that if you work in construction or another dusty environment, your phone will handle it just fine.  Most phones have a water protection rating of at least 7, which allows for submersion of 1 meter for a short time, so long as all covers are sealed and nothing is plugged into the device for about two hours.

Keep in mind, your liquid protection does not apply to salt water usually, and trusting a $25 case to protect a $800 phone is a bad idea.  But, if a rain storm should happen to strike while you’re making a call, or you spill your coffee; your phone will be ok as long as the ports are sealed.  To ensure your ports are always sealed, you may want to use wireless headphones, since they don’t need to connect to an uncovered port.

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What is ransomware, and what can I do?

Ransomware is a type of malware that holds the information on your computer hostage in exchange for a ransom.  Usually, there is a deadline to pay the ransom, and a means of contacting the people holding your data.  Your data will still be on your hdd or ssd, but the ransomers encrypt it, and they and only they have the key to decrypt it.  The FBI says that you should not pay the ransom, as there is no guarantee that the ransom holders will give you the decryption keys.  The best defenses against a ransomware attack are as follows.

 

  • Make sure all security updates and patches are installed.
  • Have both network and non network backups, such as flash drives or dvds.
  • Download files only from sources you trust, or use www.virustotal.com to scan links and files before opening them.
  • Change the name of default user accounts on your system, as well as the passwords.
  • Make sure to use a non admin account on your computer.  This way, malware may not always get admin access to your system.