This weekend I set about changing my passwords, thanks to the notorious Heartbleed bug that's got everyone in a tizzy. If you haven't caught up yet, this is a serious security vulnerability that affects (or has affected) major sites, such as Yahoo and Facebook, and if you don't change your logins for these sites, all of your sensitive information could be up for grabs.
The thing is, you should only change your password when the site is "all clear," and that means a number of things. For example, it doesn't make sense to change your password unless the site was vulnerable to Heartbleed (not all of them were), the site has patched the bug behind this (it appears in specific versions of OpenSSL, the open source encryption technology behind most of the world's web servers), and the site has updated and reissued its security certificate.
There are lots of Heartbleed-checking sites available, some with lists of which ones you should change your passwords for, but they might be incomplete, not include all of the necessary information, or have other flaws, as I wrote on ITworld.
Sadly, it's up to us to find out which sites individually have been affected and whether or not we should change our passwords for them. I've started this public Google spreadsheet after trying to change my passwords this weekend and figure out this mess. I'm hoping that crowd-sourcing the sheet will lead to better information than what we have so far, or at least it will be a starting point for you to update your important accounts.
Please add to the list if you can, or just share it if you think it'll help someone.
You really shouldn't still be using Windows XP (seriously, just upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 8), now that there's no more support from Microsoft for Windows XP against hackers and viruses. Still, if you plan on sticking with XP (perhaps have to for work), here are a few things you should consider to protect yourself/your data:
- Unplug from the internet. If your Windows XP computer isn't online, you're evading most of the security threats. Don't know what to do with a computer that's not connected to the internet? You could always use it as a photo viewer, media streamer, and for other offline tasks.
- Keep your antivirus and antimalware programs up to date. Everyone should always have the most current antimalware updates, but Windows XP users in particular need to be vigilant about this, since they're essentially sitting ducks. Many AV software providers are still updating their products even for Windows XP editions, even though Microsoft isn't going to release any more Windows Updates for XP.
- Delete the administrator account. If a hacker gets into your PC with the administrator login, all sorts of havoc can be wreaked. Use a limited account (under Control Settings > Users) instead of an administrator account (and delete the admin account) and you limit the kind of damage a hacker can do.
- Ditch Internet Explorer. Use Chrome, Firefox, or another non-Microsoft browser, since earlier versions of IE will also be vulnerable. Similarly, find alternatives to other Microsoft-branded products like Windows Mail.
- Get rid of Java and Flash. Disable these or, if necessary, disable them from running automatically.
- Use Windows XP in a virtual machine. Many people and companies are sticking to XP because they have special software that can only run under that OS. If you can't ditch XP, at least run it in a protected VM state, so anything that happens there can't affect the rest of your system. Windows 7 and Windows 8 have a way to use XP for free in a VM, as I mention in this Lifehacker post.
RIP, Windows XP.
Back up your computer and your mobile devices. It's something we all want to do--because in the back of our minds we know stuff happens and there's that possibility we could lose everything--but an incredible 30% of people have never backed up. Even if you already have a set-and-forget backup solution set up, today is the day to make sure your copies of all your important files are stored somewhere safe.
It's World Backup Day 2014, but even long after the day is done, it's still backup day.
Today, though, several online companies are offering free or discounted services. These include:
- Mover: Free 15GB transfer credit to move files between your cloud storage accounts
- CrashPlan: 20% off annual plans (one of the best unlimited online backup services available)
- SpiderOak: Unlimited storage for $125 a year (SpiderOak normally has a fixed data plan, so this is a great deal--and one that will continue for you every year)
- Acronis: 250GB free online storage for one year (normally $49.99) with purchase of Acronis True Image software
Please back up your stuff. While you're at it, here's how to automatically backup the photos and videos on your cell phone, how to back up your Android device, and the top online storage and file syncing services.
If you own a ThinkPad laptop, you probably should check to make sure the laptop battery isn't going to catch fire.
Lenovo has recalled battery packs for several ThinkPad notebooks, after two reports of the battery packs overheating (and thus damaging the computer). Here are the details from the Consumer Product Safety Commission:
This recall involves Lenovo battery packs sold with the following ThinkPad notebook computers: the Edge 11, 13 and 14 series, the T410, T420, T510 and W510 series, and the X100e, X120e, X200, X201 and X201s series. The battery packs were also sold separately. The black battery packs measure between 8 to 11 inches long, 1 to 3 inches wide and about 1 inch high. Recalled battery packs have one of the following part numbers starting with the fourth digit in a long series of numbers and letters printed on a white sticker below the bar code on the battery pack: 42T4695, 42T4711, 42T4798, 42T4804, 42T4812, 42T4822, 42T4828, 42T4834, 42T4840 and 42T4890.
The CPSC recommends you immediately turn off your ThinkPad and contact Lenovo (800-426-7378) for a free replacement battery. If your laptop allows this, you can still use your laptop with the battery removed and the AC plugged in (something that's good for the battery life anyway).
Please share this with anyone you know who might be affected.
So many things to talk about with Microsoft Office on mobile today!. The biggest news is Office is finally (at last!) available on the iPad. It's free, but limited if you don't have an Office 365 subscription. Not to worry: Microsoft is giving away free Office 365 subscriptions (for a limited time, to select customers). And even if you don't have Office 365 or an iPad, you can now use Microsoft Office on iPhone and Android phones for free.
Lots of news, so let's break it down.
First, Office on iPad. The long-awaited Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps have been redesigned from the ground up as native iPad apps. So you'll find features and interface controls that work specifically for the iPad's touch-first environment. For example, drop-down menus are designed to stay out of the way of the iPad's onscreen keyboard, and you can pull up live previews of Excel charts without having to use the keyboard at all. The apps all sync documents to Microsoft OneDrive, which means you can open them and collaborate on them with others (whether they're using Office on the desktop or mobile) without worrying about formatting compatibility.
Unfortunately, the free app is read-only if you're not an Office 365 subscriber. However, starting Friday, March 28th and through March 30th, you could save the $100/year subscription to Office 365--and get the full Office suite for free on both desktop and iPad--if you head to a Microsoft Store with your iPad and are among the first 50 customers there that weekend. Your chances of winning really depend on how popular your local Microsoft Store and this promotion are.
In addition to the new Office for iPad, Microsoft also has made Office Mobile (for Android phones and iPhones) completely free. You can download it directly from iTunes or Google Play. Previously, you needed an Office 365 subscription to use the Office apps on your smartphone.
Few people will use the Office apps on their smartphones for anything except quick reviews, but it could still come in handy. The tablet versions, however (an Android tablet Microsoft Office is supposedly in the works), potentially mean you could replace your laptop. After seeing the Office for iPad demo today, I have to say the apps look very capable and Microsoft thought a lot about the touch interface (thanks, no doubt, to experience with Windows 8 and the Surface).
I wouldn't go so far as to say the PC is dead, but when the quintessential office suite finally comes to the most popular tablet (whose makers have deemed the PC to be dead), it's an important moment in mobile productivity. Office is still the workhorse of many businesses, and extending it to as many devices as possible is, I think, a win for everyone.
Apple MacBooks are among the most highly rated and recommended laptops around, thanks to their excellent build quality. If you're deciding between the slick MacBook Air and the performance-centric MacBook Pro, the best choice might not be as clear cut as it seems.
For one thing, prices between similar Air and Pro models are just a hundred or two hundred dollars apart: The 13-inch MacBook Air starts at $1,099 and the 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,199 or $1,299 for the Retina display version. For those prices, you get higher-end features on the Pro, especially the Retina one: a more powerful processor (2.4GHz instead of 1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5), a much better display (2460 by 1600 pixels instead of 1440 by 900), an extra Thunderbolt port, and an HDMI port.
It gets even better if you have extra money to upgrade, because you can up for up to 16GB of memory (instead of the max 8GB on the Air) and/or upgrade to the 2.8GHz i7 processor.
What about size, you ask? Isn't the Air lighter, thinner, and more portable? Actually, the difference in size and weight might be negligible. The weight of the Pro is just 0.5 pounds more. The Air is 0.68 inches at its thickest, while the Pro is 0.71 inches at its thickest. Also, the Air measures 9.0 by 12.8 inches, while the Pro is 8.6 by 12.4 inches.
The biggest reason to buy the Air over the Pro may be battery life. While the Pro has a respectable 9-hour battery life rating, the Air is rated up to 12 hours. Even though that's better for mobile pros, though, I'd lean towards the Pro, considering they're so close in cost and portability.
Microsoft OneNote users have long known that this program is one of Microsoft's best kept secrets--a note-taking, web clipping, brainstorming gem of a tool hidden in Microsoft Office. The biggest detractor for OneNote was its lack of cross-platform compatibility--no Mac OS X support--and other features like forwarding web pages via email that competing services like Evernote and Springpad have. Now, OneNote is available for Mac users, and for free.
This is pretty huge, since OneNote has been around since 2003, but only on Windows. It's one of my favorite programs because it is essentially a digital notebook--and a far more natural one to use than even Evernote and Springpad. It seems like Microsoft is upping its game to finally compete with these other note-taking apps.
As ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley reports, the free version of OneNote lacks a few features you'd get from the full desktop version: SharePoint support, Outlook integration, and version history. You're also only supposed to use it for home or student/school (non-commercial) reasons.
Folks who have downloaded the Mac version of OneNote complain you can only save files to Microsoft OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive), but I think that's a small price to pay for a program we've been waiting over a decade for.
The NSA's mass surveillance program of ordinary citizens has many of us on edge and worried about our privacy. In his first interview since leaking the NSA's activities, Edward Snowden answered what the average user can do to protect their data in this insecure age.
The three things he highlighted are:
- Encrypting a device's entire hard drive
- Encrypting network traffic (e.g., with a VPN)
- Using Tor for anonymous web browsing
The trouble is, most people don't know how to do these things off the bat, and, in addition, network speeds can slow down from using a VPN and/or Tor. Still, these are important steps to take if you value the privacy of your information. For some users in particular, who work with sensitive data on their laptops and other mobile devices, these steps are especially important--even if you don't care about government snooping. A VPN and device encryption also protect your information from hackers and data thieves.
All of the "Big Four" wireless carriers in the US--AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile--have recently introduced an early upgrade option for subscribers. This feature lets you switch out your current (outdated-in-two-months) phone with the latest and greatest before your standard 2-year contract is up. This is great for those who upgrade their phones often to get better features (better battery life or cameras, newer technologies like fingerprint scanners, etc.)...but it's not so great for budget reasons.
Joanna Stern crunched the numbers on the Wall Street Journal (chart below) and concluded the cost of using the early upgrade plan is $200 to $400 more than simply waiting until your contract is up and you can get a new phone subsidized.
T-Mobile's case is a little different, because you always pay for your phone in full upfront but even so their jump plan promises a sort of discount for early upgraders. Theirs happens to be the most affordable plans, whether standard or early upgrade (something noted here before).
Any way you slice it, though, early upgrade plans are more for early adopters than for value/bargain hunters.
You might already know the top places to work from home or telecommute. Similarly, some cities are more ideal than others if you're a freelancer or work for yourself. NerdWallet performed an analysis of the best places where you can free yourself from the commute.
They looked at 3 things: how many self-employed people are in the city (a sign that the freelancing lifestyle is sustainable), the median rent cost (since freelancers don't have as much income security), and the median cost of health insurance (since we don't get health insurance benefits).
The top 20 cities are all over the country. Topping the list is Los Angeles, since it has the highest percent of households with self-employment income, but cities like Miami, Nashville, Minneapolis, Boise, and Seattle all are freelancer-friendly.
Your hometown is just one consideration if you're thinking about freelancing, but you can really literally work anywhere if you have a job that can be done remotely. If you've been thinking about moving, here's the full list of the best cities for freelance workers.