Time for more Tech Rambling

I first came to Panama in 1993. I toured the canal and saw a lot of Panama City. At that time I said, “Boy am I glad I don’t live there”.

Fast forward.

In 2002, I came to decide if I wanted to live in Panama, after reading the benefits in many publications about how great it would be to live in Boquete. In March of 2003 I moved to Boquete.

That is when I started blogging to give my family in the US a means of knowing I was still alive.

Move forward again and I am in my 14th year in Chiriquí, now living in David. The Internet has changed a lot in that period of time. With the creation of the iPhone, even greater changes have taken place. With the growth of the mobile Internet, we have seen personal computing move from the desktop to the tablet and to the cell phone.

That movement has put competing and network communications in the hands of many that have never touched technology or computers before.

This is a good thing and a bad thing. It is wonderful to have a video chat with your grandchildren, in another country. It is great to be able to check you bank account to see if a payment has been made. It if fantastic to be able to sign on to Amazon and order anything.

However, because this technology is in the hands of many who are not savvy to all the perils for id theft, malware, viruses, etc., they are vulnerable to being taken advantage of.

I am a firm believer that in today’s world, you have to be connected. You have to have a cell phone and for me it is mandatory that I be connected to the Internet at all times. I believe it is important for personal safety, if you live in Panama.

So how do you balance the need for the new technology with the risk of bad people getting all your information.

That is the subject of this post.

The most vulnerable part of this new technical environment we live in is the user of the technology, not the technology.

Yes, all PCs are vulnerable to malware and viruses. I don’t care if you use Windows, Mac, Linux or hybrids. All computers are vulnerable to security threats.

When I worked at EDS, I managed the group that developed EDS’s own proprietary security product to protect EDS’s client’s files running on IBM mainframes. That was back in the 70s.

I have grown up thinking about security protection of information. I have worked on so many different computer systems and with so many computer languages, I have lost count.

Like i said, most users today don’t have that advantage. Most walk into the local store and buy a desktop or laptop and have no idea of the difference between a Macbook, Windows laptop or a Chromebook.

For most people moving to Panama, who want to use the PC to surf the Internet, write emails and do video chats, the Chromebook is the safest device. If you must have Microsoft Word to write professionally, then maybe your need a Mac or Windows PC. However, most don’t know the questions to ask and buy what ever the salesman recommends and it is likely he doesn’t know much more than the purchaser.

My next laptop will be a Chromebook. I will keep my MacBook Pro as a backup.

The Chromebook is much more secure than either a Mac or Windows PC.

If you have a Mac or Windows PC, you need to install an AntiVirus. I am using Sophos on my MacBook. I wrote up the move from AVAST in a previous post.

In reality, most antivirus (AV) are no more effective in reducing PC infections than an informed user. Most viruses, malware, Trojans, etc. get into a PC because the user invites it. A popup appears on the screen telling the user, “Your PC is infected. Click HERE to remove the infections”.

Of course that popup comes from a site that is designed to infect PCs. When the user clicks HERE, he installs the malware he wants to be avoiding.

DON’T EVER CLICK ON ANY POPUP SAYING YOU PC NEEDS TO BE CLEANED!

Out of date software is another way to guarantee you will get an infection. It is extremely important today to make sure you operating system is current with security updates. Security updates are put out by Microsoft and Apple an a frequent basis. AVs also need to be current with the latest updates.

Another way that many get viruses is by inserting a USB memory stick that has a virus on it. This is especially true when it is inserted into a Windows PC. It is less of a problem on a MAC.

Email is another way that users infect themselves. They receive an email from a person in their contact list with a URL to click and click it and again, they may have authorized the installation of malware.

Usually you can tell if the email is really from the contact or not, but phishing is getting more crafty and can fool you. It may open a website that looks official. What I always do is run my cursor over URLs before I click on them to see the real address.

It is amazing how many URLs will read www.ChaseBank.com and the hidden URL will read http://IMGONNAGETYOU.COM. The waters are dangerous. Be careful when wading in.

Now the biggest vulnerability in PCs is the management of passwords. I have written several posts on passwords before, but lets talk about it one more time.

I just looked at my LASTPASS vault and I have 46 websites that I have to sign-in with a password. Every one of those sites has a unique hardened password. What do I mean by hardened? Well it must be a minimum of 10 characters, both upper and lower case, contain numbers and some special characters.

How do you remember 46 different password. It is just easier to put donray123. Well you can use one of the password managers, such as LastPass or you can design your own formula for remembering.

A formula might be a+b+c+d. Where
a. is a word or phrase with upper and lower case characters. Something you will remember.
b. is a date you will not forget or some other number.
c. is an entry including special characters.
d. is something unique to that site.

If you are consistent you only have to remember the unique site portion and the rest of the formula doesn’t change.

Then you can improve that by changing the formula for different type of sites.

Maybe for Social sites use the formula a+b+c+d.
Maybe credit card sites use the formula d+c+b+a.
Maybe banking sites are a+b+d+c.

You may have an idea for building a password that is better, but you should make sure your password is UNIQUE for all sites. It needs to be a minimum of 10 characters (the more the better) and include upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters.

You get the idea. I would rather remember formulas than to remember passwords. I also use Lastpass, and with LastPass, I only have to remember one password and it remembers all the others.

Another thing, I do not do, is use the easy way out and sign in via Facebook. All sites I enter have their own unique password. I do not want FaceBook connected to any other site.

OK, I have touched on PCs/laptops and passwords and will now move to the most vulnerable area of Internet connection, that being the new mobile connection.

For all practical purposes you have only two architectures to choose from. The Android system is created by Google and the iPhone IOS is created by Apple. There are also Microsoft phones and some Linux phones, but they have such a small portion of the market, that I will ignore them.

If you have the money, the safest is Apple’s IOS iPhones. It is not that IOS is more secure than Android, but Apple has the ability to update their system without external intervention.

While Google does as good a job of maintaining a secure system, it is hindered because it is dependent on having the manufacturer of the phone release the updates. Since so many manufacturers tailor their systems, they need time to integrate Google’s updates into them.

With mobile, as it is with desktop operating systems, it is very important to stay current with the updates. Apple cannot be beat in this area, since they manufacture the hardware and the software. You do pay a premium for that and it may be worth it to you.

Lets assume that Apple is out of your price range. You now need to pay a little more attention. I would not buy any Android cell phone that had an operating system earlier than 5.1. 6.0 was released about a year ago and 7.0 is coming out now. You can check under “About Device” to see what release is installed and the “Android Security Patch Level” should show how current the system is with security patches.

A 5.1 system with all the security updates is still a good system.

The the most current Android device will always be the Google sanctioned device, which in the past were Nexus devices. In October, the new name will be Pixel. Google controls their updates and they will be the reference to measure by. Nexus (Now Pixel) will tend to be a little more expensive, however, they will still be cheaper than an Apple iPhone.

I have heard some discussion of how secure email is. You need to realize that all email is eligible to be read. No information such as bank account numbers, social security numbers, passport numbers, etc. should be included in email. If you need to send them to your family, it would be better sent via WhatsApp, which encrypts all information.

I have heard discussion that free email is not secure. Gmail and Hotmail are probably two of the most secure email platforms out. Yahoo is probably the worst and I would get rid of AOL too. Gmail’s spam filters are second to none. I have no worries with Apple email either.

There are paid for email platforms, but I haven’t found any worth my spending money on. Again, the most vulnerable part of email is the user. Some spam and phishing emails will get through any email platform. If you fall for the scam, then you invite the malware. I never click on tiny URLs (URLS that have been shortened to remove the need to do a lot of typing). If I can’t see the site address I am going to, it is not worth going there.

And once again, only use hardened passwords for your email accounts. As technology improves, so do the phishing scams and malware.

With a little bit of caution you can make technology work for you. More and more we will need to become technology informed.

4 thoughts on “Time for more Tech Rambling

  1. Well, I am in the process of using iDrive, so I guess I would say, reasonably safe. I would only use one of the major companies. I also have files stored on Google Drive. You have to balance the risk with the benefit you feel will be gained. If you need an off site backup and don’t have a reasonable other option, it is worth considering. Again, you need to choose secure and hardened passwords for these sites.

Leave a Reply