Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mobile Location-Based Apps and Services

There are approximately 93.1 million smart phone users in the United States today, up 11% from 2011.  With this increase comes more access to location-based apps and services.   

Location-based services have become very useful in social networking today.  Advances in smart phone technology are allowing people to use their mobile devices to get location-based information in real time with apps such as Foursquare, Pearescope, and Yelp

Here are just a few ways location based apps can be useful:
·         Locating people or objects – finding the whereabouts of a friend or the closest ATM machine
·         Target marketing – identifying consumers shopping habits in order to send specific ads or coupons
·         Recommendations – finding what is the best seafood restaurant in downtown Atlanta
·         Directions – finding the best route to get to Turner Field from Stone Mountain

Mobile location-based apps can collect your location data in three main ways – by you “checking in” at a location, by revealing your location when you snap a picture using an app like Instagram, or by an app working in the background to grab your location (whether or not you are currently using the app). 

Location-based capabilities are being integrated in more and more apps every day, many times unbeknownst to you.  Whether you take your personal and digital privacy matters seriously or not, there are four types of settings you can check to determine how much information these services make available to the world.

1.       Amount of Personal Data Shared – Most apps require you to fill out at least a minimum amount of personal information in order to create an account.  Many times this information is visible as part of your user profile, but the amount of data and who gets to see it can vary.  Check for “sharing” or “privacy” settings within the app and set a level that you are comfortable with.  Some apps allow the personal information you entered to only be visible to “your friends” as opposed to “everyone”.
2.       Exact Locations Shared – Location-based apps take pride in the accuracy of the exact locations they deliver.  Many apps allow you some degree of control when pin pointing specific locations, such as the location of your home or work place.  Check the apps “privacy” settings to see if you are able to “hide” certain locations.
3.       Preloaded App Settings – When you download an app, it typically comes with preloaded settings based on what the company would like to see in terms of behavior and data usage, which may differ from what you would like.  Go through the settings of each app before you start using it in order to understand what information it collects and potentially shares.  Many times you can modify these settings to your comfort level.
4.       Automatic Check-In – Just because you are not engaged in a location-based activity on your mobile device doesn’t mean an app isn’t logging your location and posting it.  There are usually two places this kind of setting can be located on your mobile device – within the app itself or within your general phone settings.  For the latter, look for “location services” within your device’s general settings.  Here, you should be allowed to at least turn an apps location tracking on or off.

When you combine location-based services and mobile devices, you have a really powerful tool.  As mentioned earlier, there are currently around 93.1 million smart phone users.  By 2016, the number of people utilizing smart phones is expected to rise to approximately 192.4 million.  The current and expected growth in usage is fueling the location-based apps market, whether it is for entertainment purposes or marketing competition.  So be aware and before you using any new app you’ve downloaded, check the security and privacy settings and set a level you can live with.

If you need help with any smart phone, mobile device, or app settings, give Kardon Tech a call.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tablet or E-Reader? B/W or Color? WiFi or 3G? Please, make it stop.

In the last blog, we helped solve the maze of products that has become the Amazon Kindle line of products. From entry-level e-readers to a color feature-filled tablet, there is a Kindle product that will fulfill your mobile computing desires.
Now, before you run off and go Kindle shopping, the important thing to remember is there are tablets falling from the sky these days. Big, small, heavy, light, color, black and white, tablet, e-reader....the options never end. Just as with the Kindle products, there is a decision process needed to find the best product (for you) to buy.

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

During the decision-making process, do not get overwhelmed with the options? Going to a store and looking at a dozen different choices can lead you to getting confused or missing an important factor that may sway your purchase. It comes down to asking simple questions and narrowing the field based on the answers that mean the most to you. What do you want to do? “I want to have a tablet” may not be the clearest answer. The biggest decision in buying can be made with this somewhat simple question. Are you looking to have a library at your fingertips or are you looking for a fuller mobile computing experience? If reading books and magazines is the extent of your desire, then an e-reader may be sufficient. You can find a wonderful product under $150 with the various Amazon or Barnes & Noble products. Starting with the basic Kindle at $79 through the competing Kindle Touch and Nook Simple (both at $99). There is even a backlit Simple Touch at $139. If you are looking for an actual tablet experience (beyond just reading books), then you will be making a decision on price and size. There are mid-size tablets and full-size tablets that can provide similar multimedia experiences. The Apple iPad line, Samsung Galaxy, and Asus Transformer line can do everything under the sun. Whether it is watching Netflix, checking your mail, reading books, and even document editing are possible with these devices. You are going to be getting a slightly larger (and color) touch screen with these devices which opens the door for everything short of having a laptop in front of you. With the additional performance, you will be shelling out more money for the devices. The bigger tablets will run between $400 and $900 while the smaller versions can be found under $350. The Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet provide a stepping stone between simple e-readers and full-fledged tablet computers. They sacrifice benefits from both ends of the spectrum to allow for a good all around experience. If you are looking for a color tablet that provides an avenue towards reading and regular tablet computing, these are the devices for you. Both devices also provide a stepping stone in terms of price as they can be found under $200. Tablet computing without shelling out the better part of a grand is very enticing. Where and how are you going to do what you want to do? There are two factors that can affect usability, screen type and connection type. The two available screen types are a black and white e-Ink and a color LCD screen. The black and white screens are seen in the e-readers. The screen is designed for book reading. There is less strain put on your eyes and outdoor glare is limited. This is balanced by the need for a light in darker environments. The LCD screens are backlit and designed for a fuller computing experience. The glare limits them when used outdoors and you are not going to be reading books constantly on those devices. The eyestrain would be the same as sitting in front of a computer. Connection types vary between pure wireless to a readily available global wireless to data plan 3/4G compatible devices. You can, essentially, find an available connection at each level of device. There are e-readers (Kindle Touch), mid-sized tablets (7” Galaxy Tab), and larger tablets (iPad) that allow for data connections, but there are also wifi only devices (Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet, iPad and Galaxy Tab) if you are looking for a device around the house or at the office without needing something truly “on the go”. It is important to take the time to think about when and where you will be using the device as a data plan can add hundreds of dollars to the cost of a device (per year) just to use it. An extra device around the computer can give you flexibility (personally, I have found the Kindle Fire finding its way into my daily routine when I did not originally see a need for a tablet). There are countless other decisions that can be made for these devices. Processing speed, available RAM, the need for a camera, available apps and programs, types of media desired, web browsing experience, and you can go on and on. Personally, I feel that personal preference decisions can be as varied as the people making those decisions. I cannot provide an answer on the feel or look of a device nor can I tell you what programs you may enjoy or the operating system that suits you. However, I am surprised at the number of people who look to make a purchase without using the available devices. If I can give you one bit of information.....USE THE DEVICES! There are dozens of stores selling the devices and there are always display models available. Pick one up and hold it. Browse the internet. Read a few pages of a book. You could spend a day reading 20 reviews only to find that you do not like holding one of the devices after the first 30 seconds.

Even if you take advantage of the Kardon Technology New Computer Consulting and Purchasing service offered, we still advise you to look at an actual product. Be sure to check out the below links. They each provide excellent in-depth reviews complete with physical hardware comparisons, usability comparisons, and cost expectations.

Too many reading choices? Understood. Contact Us for assistance.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Kindle Komparison

If the market for tablets and e-readers was not confusing enough, Amazon has been nice enough to throw out half a dozen Kindle models to choose from. There are enough choices to make your head spin and the choices provide just enough doubt to wonder if you are buying the right device for you.

In this blog post, I am going to look at the bare basics of the four major models (Kindle, Touch, DX, Fire). There are, obviously, 3G and wireless models for the Touch and the Kindle DX and Kindle Keyboard mirror each other with the DX simply being slightly bigger.

First, let’s check out the basics:

Kindle Touch
Kindle DX
Kindle Fire
Screen Size (in)
Screen Type
eInk Pearl
eInk Pearl
eInk Pearl
Color IPS
Weight (ounces)
Size (in)
Battery Life (hr)
Internal Storage (GB)
WiFi only
Wifi or 3G
Free 3G wireless
Wifi only

Looking at the above table, there are a few differences that may be the make or break properties before getting to any deeper issues.

Price is, obviously, the big factor. Simple basic e-readers can be found with the basic Kindle and Touch. You are not getting any fancy do-dads and there are no frills. This is not to say that the other options are not cost effective. You need to realize that each device is solving a slightly different niche. People that want just books in a small device can save a noticeable amount of money compared to other available tablets. Yet, even when considering the Kindle Fire, if a tablet is what you are looking for (more functionality than an e-reader), then $200 is a great deal. The DX gives you a much bigger screen in a heavier device. Easier to read and more to handle at the expense of battery life. Considering the price, you may be turned off by such a trade-off.

The second set of distinctions are connected, battery life and screen type. The eInk Pearl screen is the standard e-reader screen. It is only black and white and you will need a light to read in the dark. However, there is no glare similar to other tablets (Fire, iPad). The eInk Pearl screen type can be used outside with ease and does not strain the eyes to the extent of a computer screen. For the purpose of reading, they function flawlessly. If you want more than just an e-reader, then the Kindle Fire’s color screen is where you need to go. The color screen does cause the massive battery loses and the glare makes outdoor usage a struggle, at times. But, with the added media functionality, a color tablet may be what you are looking to buy.

Personally, connectivity issues are secondary to the above factors. Looking for an e-reader vs a tablet or having color/B&W or several other factors play a big role before deciding on how to get your software. But, it is still important to review the mobility options since these are, well, mobile devices. The basic Kindle is limited to wifi, as is the Kindle Fire. As an owner of a Kindle Fire, I first thought the WiFi only ability would be quite limiting. But, the usage around the house and replacement of computer usage really surprised me. Do not discount WiFi only as a reasonable solution to your problem. Spend some time to determine locations of usage and go from there. If you really cannot be limited to WiFi, then there are 3G versions of the Touch and the DX which provide 3G wireless globally. Whether it will replace a laptop at home or be the book on a bus, there is an option for you.

A final purchasing decision would come down to personal preference connected to usage combined with the above hardware differences.

If you want a barebones e-reader, then the basic Kindle will solve all your problems. It has a simple 5 button control and is a library in your hand. There is not much to talk about beyond that. With the Touch and DX, you are getting the same capabilities with slightly improved functionality. The Kindle Touch is, of course, a touch screen while the DX is a Kindle Keyboard on steroids. And, finally, those looking for a tablet alternative to the expensive iPad and Galaxy Tab, you have the Kindle Fire. A color screen and the ability to play countless audio and video filetypes (while the others struggle) make the Fire an economy tablet for those looking for some functionality and some price savings.

Yes, there are countless versions and, when first looking at it, you may not be able to decide which way to go. However, the differences are stark between the devices and you can quickly determine what fits for you. Your budget, your usage preferences, and even your hand/eye comfort will help to push you in the right direction.  However, if you really don't have the time, or the patience, to compare, Kardon Technology offers a New Computer Consulting and Purchasing service, which can also be used for mobile devices.  We can compare the Kindle with countless other options based on your answers to a simple questionnaire.  Contact Us for more details.

In the next blog post, we will compare the Kindle e-readers and Kindle tablet (Fire) with other e-readers and available tablets in the marketplace. You probably determined which Kindle is the Kindle for you, but is there another device out there that does the job better?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Power Cords for Laptops - Are they all the same?

If you’re like me, you rely heavily on some sort of a computer for work and/or play.  For me, my “computer” comes in the form of a laptop, iPad, and iPhone.  You could say I have at least one of these devices on me at all times.  Of course, I use my laptop for the heavy lifting – it’s portable and convenient.  One of the most important laptop accessories is a power cord.  There’s nothing more frustrating to me than to run low on battery power and not have my power cord.

Believe it or not many users have more than one power cord.  Power cords are pretty lightweight and easily fit in small spaces.  So having one at home and another at work or in the car or in your briefcase or luggage is very sensible.  That way you are sure to have one whenever you need it.
These days, a fully charged laptop battery will last approximately two to five hours.  Odds are, sooner or later you will need to rely on more sustainable power.  Not only can a power cord keep your laptop up and running at peak performance, it can also protect it in case of a power surge.  And of course it enables you to charge your battery. 

Just as not all laptops are made equal, power adapters have varying voltage outputs.  Using the wrong laptop adapter can damage your computer.  Even though a Dell power cord may fit in your HP laptop, it doesn’t mean it will work properly.  Different laptop models have different power requirements.  

If you are going to buy a power supply, getting the right one is crucial.  If you like to “live on the edge” and save some money, you can shop around to find one that will fit your needs.  What you need to know is that power adapters are rated for voltage and current.  You might see a power supply rating such as 15.6 V/8A.  Basically, you need to make sure the voltage output is the same and the current is the same or above the power requirements.  For example, if your current power supply has a rating of 15.6 V/5 A, then a 15.6V/8 A is a suitable.  That is, as long as the connector is the same as well – meaning it’s the same size and polarity and doesn’t wiggle when it’s connected. 

Although purchasing a power cord from the original manufacturer can be more expensive, they are usually made of higher quality and better materials.  And some even come with a short warranty to ensure that they work properly.  Find the model number on your current power adapter or use your laptop’s model number to find the correct power supply from the manufacturer.

All power cords are not the same so take time to find which one will work best with your device. Sometimes power cords do seem overpriced, but for many people who are always on the go, the price is small compared to productivity.  

If you are in the market for a new or replacement power cord and would like some help, give Kardon Tech a call.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Where is the next data breach?

                Data security is the ever present concern for the health industry. Doctor/Patient confidentiality is imperative for medical personnel. With recent changes to HIPAA regulations and the HITECH Act, as part of the ARRA stimulus, have brought the importance of data security back to the forefront of medical concerns.
                In recent years, we have also seen that it is a concern that can never be taken for granted. An analysis from Secmaniac.com on data breaches documented by PrivacyRights.org shows that security breaches in the healthcare industry dwarf the number of breaches from other industries. And, those breaches have increased in recent years.
                It is also important to note that these breaches have come from many different directions in many different forms. Magnetic data tapes were stolen from a GRM Information Management Services’ vehicle in New York city, in another situation a laptop containing medical information was stolen from the Sutter Health Foundation in Sacramento, and health records were downloaded from a server in Utah’s Department of Health. Data breaches can hit close to home, as well. Emory released information about a data breach connected to misplacing 10 backup disks affecting more than 300,000 patients. Unfortunately, these breaches are not unique, either. More than a hundred data breaches with similar stories are found across the countries from government offices, hospitals, data management companies, doctor’s offices, and billing companies.
                Just from the above listed scenarios, we see that personal and medical information related to nearly 8 million patients was breached through hacking, thievery, and laziness and from multiple mediums (backup tapes and disks, office hardware, and cyber information). These events highlight the importance of security in all manner of data management. Computer hardware should be secured and monitored. Backups need to be stored securely. Old data should be decommissioned in a safe and secure manner. And, password management continues to be often overlooked.
                These data breaches can cause lost contracts and lawsuits (as is the case with GRM Information Management Services) and add billions in costs to the healthcare industry as security efforts continue to rise. It is important to note that any company associated with the healthcare industry is at risk. Companies should not allow themselves to relax thinking that only big companies or hospitals are targeted. Improper data security connected with one backup or one disgruntled employee can leave a company vulnerable to fines and lawsuits.
                The development of a security plan and security controls can be intensive and overwhelming, especially for smaller companies. Kardon Technology provides the assistance required by companies that do not have a fully-staffed compliance department to help with the ever changing data security environment.
                These security and compliance plans help tackle all avenues of breach protection from basic computer protection through patch management and antivirus control to advanced backup protection (with Managed Online backup) and user control management. And, with the available Risk Analysis, we can monitor known vulnerabilities, as well as identify possible security flaws.  Contact Us to schedule your HIPAA/HITECH Compliance Readiness complimentary evaluation.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Battery Woes for Mobile Devices

In the “old days”, you could get away for the weekend without the need to take your cell phone charger, much less have to recharge your battery.  But with the growing technology being built into smartphones and tablets today, powering these devices is draining batteries quickly.  Thereby, requiring you to be tethered to your charger and re-charging your battery during the day. 

Most smartphones today use Lithium ion batteries.  These batteries are approaching their power capacities, especially when you take into consideration that power requirements for all mobile devices are increasing at a rapid rate.  Smartphones and tablets crave battery power and battery technology is not keeping up the pace.

One problem with battery capacity involves the chemical nature of the battery itself.  Lithium ion battery technology hasn’t changed much in the last 15 years.  However, smartphone and tablet technology is changing very quickly.  These devices get faster processors, higher-resolution displays, and powerful new software updates every few months.  It’s been said that these handheld computers are more powerful than the hardware NASA used to send a man to the moon.  And with the varying high demands people are placing on their smartphones and tablets today, the battery is definitely the bottleneck.

Not only is the chemical and physical limits of batteries a problem, apps are also battery killers.  Free apps are among the worst offenders of inefficient power consumption.  Many of these apps use GPS technology to record your geographical location, download ads that are displayed within the apps, use the smartphone camera and compass tools, and even send information about you to advertisers over the Internet. 

Apple takes steps to examine an app’s power usage when deciding to approve it for sale in the App Store and will reject an app if they think it may intentionally ruin battery life.  Most seasoned app developers try not to use more battery life than they need to run their app.  Perhaps because users may delete their app or give it a low rating if they notice the drain on their battery.

Research has shown that advertising-related tasks typically take up 65% to 75% of the energy used to run a free app.  As with the popular game Angry Birds, only 25% of the energy used is actually used for playing the game – the advertising function uses 75%.  Games are not the only power hogs – applications can also utilize these methods of draining battery capacity. 

Many free apps today use embedded advertising software to send information to the Internet - such as updating user information, downloading ads, and for tracking users.  This software fails to close its connection to the Internet once these tasks take place therefore forcing another program to do the clean up and thereby wasting energy in the process.  Typically, this connection to the Internet should be complete within a fraction of a second.  However, research has found that  seven seconds per interaction can be wasted this way.  The thought is that software developers should modify apps to circumvent this problem. 

So, are free apps really “free”?  Not when you consider the costs of reduced battery life.  Batteries in mobile devices are very efficient compared to batteries used a decade ago – but they are reaching their capacity.  The use of smartphones and the app market will no doubt continue to increase in popularity.  But it is also likely that battery life and power consumption will remain a big factor in their usefulness.  Until battery technology picks up the pace with improvements in efficiency and software developers design apps for more efficient use of battery power, expect your smartphone or tablet battery to use more energy than really necessary. 

What can you do?  To further help you with your smartphone and tablet concerns, can give Kardon Tech a call.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Cloud Backup HIPAA Style

With the advent of cloud computing, there has been an explosion of internet-based software and software solutions. One of the specific areas of development is cloud-based storage. The importance of data backup has always been at the forefront of any smart company’s technology needs. That need has moved from tape drives to external drives to DVDs and, now, online solutions.

It is imperative that companies look to offsite backup for their data. The protection it provides is second-to-none when considering the impact a loss of data can have on your company. This need has been capitalized on by dozens of competitors. There are big business and personal solutions, regular constant backup and weekly backups, small file storage and complete drive backup.

While all of these different solutions can be overwhelming, it is important to first focus on security. This is your company data and there needs to be proper protection in place. Now this blog may get a bit technical. A great read if you are setting up your solutions. But if time is a concern, Kardon Technology can offer relief.

Recent changes in health care legislation have put in place several compliance issues that are required for the storage and protection of electronic patient health information. If your company deals with private patient data, then your backup must be HIPAA compliant. That is a tall task for some backup solutions and is something businesses need to be aware of when they back up their computers.

Covered entities are required to follow HIPAA standards and, in regards to data and data security, the Security rule standards used to protect an individual’s electronic personal health information. The security rule can be found here. It is a pretty dry read. And, to be honest, the plot drags along and the character development is awful. For a quick summary that provides a good bulleted set of information, check here. Or better yet, contact Kardon Technology. We have already done the research and offer a variety of back-up solutions. But...

According to the Security Rule (45 C.F.R. §164.306), covered entities that maintain or transmit protected health information are required to do the following:
  • Ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of all ePHI they create, receive, maintain or transmit;
  • Identify and protect against reasonably anticipated threats to the security or integrity of the information;
  • Protect against reasonably anticipated threats to the security or integrity of the information;
  • Ensure compliance by their workforce.

When deciding on a solution, covered entities are allowed to consider (a) its size, complexity, and capabilities, (b) its technical, hardware, and software infrastructure, (c) the costs of security measures and, (d) the likelihood and possible impact of potential risks to ePHI.

Now, that is a lot of information. It can also be tough to get a handle on just what you need to expect from a solution. Again, at Kardon Technology, we've done the research. It may be easier to just let us know what you need. However, there are a few checks to look for to know if your potential backup solution is HIPAA compliant.

Cloud backup solutions should do all of the following:
  • Allow personal creation of a private encryption key without transmitting it to storage servers
  • Encrypt secure data before data transmission
  • Transmit data in a secure and encrypted format
  • Store data in the encrypted format
  • Storage of data in redundant secure restricted access data centers
  • Archive data for failsafe recovery, data management, and audit issues

Many backup companies can provide extensive security whitepapers and information that will allow you to research and choose the solution that is right for you.

Carbonite is an industry leader in online backup. The software is easy to install and setup and they have a consistent track record of competitive pricing and top-notch security. Considering HIPAA compliance, they use respected Blowfish encryption and fulfill the ideas of encrypted data in-transit and at-rest. Their data centers are guarded with restricted access while providing redundant data storage.  However, and most importantly, they do not currently fulfill all compliance issues in their business solution. Carbonite does not support private encryption key management with their Carbonite Business product.

SOS Online Backup and Intronis both provide backup designed to be HIPAA compliant from the outset. Information about their compliance can be found here for SOS Online Backup and here for Intronis. Now , these are not the only solutions out there, but it is important to remember the list of checks you need to look out for when deciding. Both of the above solutions provide information discussing their compliance with the above checks.

Additionally, remember that you are not in this process alone. Considering the client list of Kardon Technology and Kardon Group, HIPAA compliance is one of our major concerns, as well. With that in mind, we have spent time developing solutions that work for us and can work for you. Be sure to bring up your concerns and issues or check out our compliance services to help protect your company.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Should I Replace My Desktop PC with a Laptop?

Laptop vs Desktop Computer
Which came first the Desktop computer or the Laptop? Well that’s not as hard as the “chicken or the egg” question. Answer: The desktop, of course. Desktop computers typically consist of several separate components: a tower (CPU), display (monitor), keyboard, and mouse. Whereas, a laptop was designed to combine all those components in one portable device.

In the earlier years, laptops were not as powerful, had slower performance, and were handicapped by battery constraints compared to a desktop computer. Today, laptops are not only still portable and convenient to use, but also can perform as well or better than a desktop PC. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want and no matter where you are - at home, work, or even on the road. You can use the same software on a laptop as you do on a desktop. Laptops also come with WIFI built-in, allowing you to the capability of accessing the Internet or networks wirelessly. Laptops are lightweight and are getting lighter with each new model.

A desktop computer is stationary - once you find a convenient place for it you’ll probably never move it. They don’t typically break as often and you typically get more bang for your buck with a desktop computer. When a new technology or a faster processor or something comes out, you can pretty much bet a desktop PC will have it. You plug a desktop PC in the wall and do not have to worry about any battery power limitations. Also, desktop computers have another advantage over laptops – they can be easily expanded as your needs change. For instance, adding more storage, memory, or a better graphics card can be done at a later date. Usually laptops cannot be expanded to the extent a desktop can. Desktop computers don’t typically come with WIFI built-in, but you could always buy a wireless card if need be.

So should you replace your desktop with a laptop?
Replacing a desktop PC with a laptop seems to be becoming the trend. But in deciding whether to do so will likely come down to personal preference, your computing needs, and possibly your budget. If you want to be able to work from your couch, your favorite cafe, your hotel room, etc, then a laptop may be the better choice. And if you are like most people and want a computer to email, surf the web, watch streaming video, create a word processing document or the like, a laptop will do – even a cheap one. Although, if you have high performance needs, you might spend twice as much for a laptop that has the same power as a desktop PC.

If you are interested in serious video editing or 3D gaming, a desktop may be the best choice. It has the ability and ease of being customized and upgraded and expanded throughout its life. However, some people may argue that computers come with pretty much everything you’ll ever want or need and the only thing you are apt to update is the memory. And by the time your computer has become deficient in this area, it’s probably lacking in other areas too and therefore it may be easier and cheaper to replace the whole thing.

Furthermore, you can get almost anything you want in a laptop. Even Bluetooth technology, WIFI, a built-in camera, and a card reader come standard on many laptops these days. Laptops can even be docked on a desk and be connected to multiple external devices including large displays (even a TV), keyboard, mouse, etc. In other words, a laptop can be used as a stationary desktop PC. And still allowing for you to unhook it and go mobile with it.

Obviously, there are pros and cons to both.  Kardon Technology offers New Computer Consulting and Purchases as one of our services.  We have an in depth questionnaire that you can fill out which will identify how you currently use your computer, and how you plan to use it in the future.  We then present options so that you can purchase exactly what you need vs. what's available off the shelf at retail locations.  We can order your new computer, load your data and applications and deliver it to your home or office.  Contact Us for a copy of the questionnaire.  

Friday, March 9, 2012

HELP! I have too many passwords!

Password overload. These days, that can become so serious that it borders on a medical disorder. Everyone has a password for their computer, for their email, for their phone, for Facebook, for company software, plus half a dozen other computer related things.
            Invariably, people will create shortcuts to avoid the stress of forgetting the important password on the morning it is needed. Many people just create a simple (and insecure) password, or there might be a sticky note on the monitor, or a note card under the mouse pad, or it may be the same password used for 15 different things. Each of these solutions displays a dangerous habit that can lead to numerous issues.  The Kardon Tech staff has observed these practices on multiple occasions, and we constantly encourage our clients to be more aware and careful.  It's interesting to see people scurry around the office hiding obvious hints and password 'clues' when we visit.  
           As compliance becomes the dangerous buzzword threatening fines and serious penalties for violations of health care and security laws, password security becomes even more important. Combined with the inherent issues with email itself, the above issues can spiral out of control leading to career altering issues like HIPAA violations and identity theft.
           The first step in keeping your passwords secure is to have a strong password. Don’t use your child’s first name, don’t use “password”, and don’t leave anything blank. Check out our previous blog on password security to get tips for designing strong passwords.
          The next step in password security is how they are stored. The longest and most complicated password in the world isn’t secure if it is written on a sticky note located on the side of the monitor. And, allowing your internet browser to remember all your passwords is nothing more than leaving your safe door open with all the valuables inside.
           In recent years, many different programs have come about providing password storage. If you make appropriate use of the right program, you can provide yourself added security while relieving a major headache seen in our technology savvy world. Check out available reviews at TopTen and TheHeatWeb.
           When looking through reviews and suggestions for personal accounts, it can be seen that there are dozens of available password managers. However, there were three password tools that consistently showed up on lists discussing the best available tools. The two free tools were LastPass and KeePass, as well as a paid version of RoboForm. Kardon Tech can help you set up something that works for your specific needs. Just give us a shout.
LastPass comes very highly recommended with top rankings from PCMag, PC World, and ZDNet. When first glance, there are not any features that stands out above and beyond any other program: single master password, automatic form filling, one click login, secure data, multiple browser support, secure notes for passwords. The listed features can be found in most password storage tools. The real positive is seen in browser support.
KeePass is highly rated within the open source community, but since it is a free open-source program, it may not have the publicity or recognition as some of the other programs. Also, it may not be the best option for recreational users. The feature set matches favorably to programs designed by a bigger company, but the usability is geared towards more advanced users and may discourage use by regular office workers.
RoboForm is the professional show. RoboForm Enterprise is designed for large companies and has the track record and infrastructure. Free trials, live demos, and a solutions team on top of a feature set that rivals the other options.
LastPass and RoboForm both provide very good browser support. There is, essentially, a password toolbar added to the relevant browsers. Both of these toolbars provide outstanding functionality without the need of an additional program being open (KeePass).
At first glance, both RoboForm and LastPass work efficiently, but the logins work differently when Internet Explorer opens. LastPass requires the user to login in to the password database upon opening Internet Explorer while RoboForm stays open to a user’s identity. There is a need for a manual log out or disabling of the RoboForm toolbar to remove functionality should someone else be using the computer a short time later.
Looking at the usability between the three mentioned programs, RoboForm and LastPass provide more integrated functionality and a better system for average users to understand and benefit from. There are constant reminders available and the programs provide one-click usability to constantly provide support and management without being obtrusive and controlling.
With the available options and the pricing considering the available features, LastPass looks to be above and beyond what someone would need in a password management tool.
The feature set of the free version is outstanding. And, the browser toolbar combined with simple things like auto-logout features make it comparable to a big company product like RoboForm. The integrated browsing also sets it apart from a light open-source program like KeePass which requires the secondary program to be available in the background.
Check out LastPass and make sure to implement it properly in your daily life. You will find that your mind isn’t as cluttered with passwords and you won’t need to second guess your security procedures concerning passwords.   Confused? Again, you can give Kardon Tech a call.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Phishing Email Scams - What They Are and How to Avoid Them

Phishing scams have been rapidly growing on the Internet for years. It is a means of online identity theft and fraud. Phishing emails typically look authentic and claim to be from a trustworthy company, usually a banking institution, credit card company, or other financial organization. Some phishing scams seek to steal personal information and financial data. Others can infect computers with viruses and try to convince people to participate unknowingly in scams, such as money laundering. Some well known companies that have been targeted by phishing email scams include eBay, Wells Fargo, Citibank, PayPal, Amazon and Bank of America.

Phishing scams tend to be pretty organized and well thought out. Phishers decide which businesses to target and then figure out how to get email addresses for customers of that business. They tend to mimic spammers in that they apply similar mass mailing and address collection techniques. The phishers use the seemingly authentic email messages to convince people to give up their personal information, many times by providing links to Web pages requesting this information. Then they use the information they’ve gathered to make illegal purchases, steal money from an account, open new accounts in your name, etc - committing fraud and/or identity theft.

There are several things you can do to protect yourself from phishing email scams. For starters, you should have adequate email protection and... make use of some good ole common sense. Here are a few other tips on how to spot phishing emails.
  • Don’t trust the “From” address of an email as it can be easily faked.
  • Be suspicious of emails that include upsetting, exciting, or are urgent requests attempting to get you to react immediately.
  • Don’t blindly trust clickable links in an email as it can be a phony site to steal your personal information. If in doubt, go directly to the company’s website by manually typing the address versus clicking on the link in the email.
  • Never send any personal information, such as social security numbers, online banking passwords, or credit card numbers to anyone via email.
  • Only enter your online banking password on a website in which you have manually entered into the browser’s web address (URL) field.
  • Watch out for misspelled words and incorrect company names. Sometimes an email contains spelling mistakes or misuses a company name. This can be a sign of a phony email and phishing scam.
  • Regularly check your banking, credit card, and other financial statements to make sure all transactions are legitimate.
  • Make sure your browser is up to date with the latest security patches installed.
  • Check a site’s security certificate before you enter personal information into a website.
Furthermore, report phishing emails scams to the groups listed below. You can go directly to these web sites or forward the email scams to the email addresses provided.
If you think you might have responded to a phishing scam, there are a few steps you can take to minimize the damage.
  • Immediately change your passwords or PINs on all of the online accounts that might have been compromised.  If you are not sure, change them all (it's probably time)
  • Contact the bank or online business directly concerning any fraudulent activity on your account.
  • If an account has been opened without your permission, close it immediately.
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit reports.
  • Examine your bank and credit card statements routinely for possible charges that you did not initiate.
Phishing is simply a high-tech scam that works like old-fashioned con jobs, where a hustler convinces a mark that he is reliable and trustworthy. Bottom line: If you receive an email that you think might be a phishing scan, delete it. Don’t click on any links in the message.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Which mobile OS do I need? Part 2 of 2

Last time we discussed which mobile operating system would be best for you, as a consumer. In the end, it came down to personal preference. There are positives and negatives for each design. Easy-to-use and smooth design lends itself to an iPhone, while versatility and customization lead you to Android.
When it comes to smart phones in an enterprise situation, consumer preference can find itself on the back burner. Data/document management, overall security, and actual phone performance drive decisions.
RIMM (Blackberry) had long been the fearsome leader in the enterprise market. If you were a corporate professional, you were using a blackberry; simple as that. They led the way in messaging, email, and data management. Recently, however, there has been a noticeable shift in enterprise smart phone use.
The recent iPass Mobile Workforce Report Q4 2011 exposes a few of the trends seen in the changing market. The two biggest reasons for shifts in smart phone usage revolve around the changing business structure and a less structured business environment.
First, mobile business is not limited to email anymore. Apps rule the day and a desire to browse the internet help to explain how iOS and Android are gaining ground (or passing) RIMM. Second, corporations are less likely to issue their own smart phones to employees. There is a move to blend an employee’s personal phone with the business environment instead of rigid smart phone control as the idea of mobile working blurs the lines of business and personal.
As can be seen from the image below, iOS and Android saw huge upticks in market share with Apple leading the way. While Blackberry is holding on, the ever-changing workforce indicates that Android will soon overtake them for second in enterprise market share.
Figure 1. Mobile Mobile Workforce Report – iPass

Over the past couple of years, as Apple and Google have worked towards expanding their footprint, they have put great effort in to solving business issues as an effort to make themselves worthy RIMM competitors. Most notably, we see the importance of document control and overall security concerns as features that are changing the OS market share. Important features include things like the use of complex passwords and the ability to wipe a phone’s data remotely are present on RIMM and iOS early on have been integrated in to Android in recent updates. And, of course, exchange/mail support has been standardized across the board.
However, there are areas where the “newer” enterprise participants lag behind Blackberry. Android and Windows Phone 7 properly run each application in a sandbox preventing what outside information may be accessed by an application (and giving you notice of what it may access). You can choose to not install apps should they violate any perceived privacy.
From InformationWeek, we can see that enterprise readiness of each operating system still fights with Blackberry’s RIMM in feature-set. With iOS, while it does provide encryption preferred by enterprise environments, the keys for that encryption are found on the phone. An attacker would have access to such things and puts a big dent in iOS’ enterprise credentials. For Android, you need the newest of the new phones running the Ice Cream Sandwich operating system for proper encryption. Windows phones don’t even attempt such features currently.
Past the nitty-gritty importance of security and enterprise integration, the choice of operating system always comes down to a few personal choices. Within the scope of business, I would focus on usability and comfort.
With concerns on comfort, no physical keyboard on iPhones means that those looking for some actual keys to press will have to look at Android for their phone. It is often overlooked, but excess typing on a screen can be uncomfortable, especially in a work environment. As for usability, iOS features like Siri and the ever present massive app store (combined with the previously mentioned walled garden) put the iPhone ahead of the pack in expected performance. You can find an app to do what you want and you know the phone will perform flawlessly repeatedly. Knowing that the app and phone will do what you want, when you want is the bottom line decision maker for enterprise customers.
There are countless areas to grade and measure when making a decision. But, the negatives that may appear from Android strike me as insignificant when looking at device encryption and security. Android has caught up to RIMM and iOS in regards to passwords and wiping ability and they lead the pack in device encryption and data protection. That is hard to ignore. While usability and style may be second to an iPhone, it looks as though Ice Cream Sandwich running on a Galaxy SII is the enterprise choice to make. You cannot choose style when security is put in to question.