She Asks IT, He Answers IT

You're a Mean One, Mr. Tech!

She Asks IT

A few days ago, my naughty husband (you) “unwrapped” a Christmas gift just by sitting on the couch and glancing over at my laptop screen.

There, splashed as a bright, beaming ad, right in the middle of my Facebook timeline, was a picture of the present I had saved in my eBay basket the previous day.

Score one for the invisible Internet “cookies.”

This was not the first time an item I purchased, thought about purchasing, or just clicked on because I wondered why anybody would purchase it, showed up later on another page.  But it was the first time the potential gift recipient saw it. (I think.)

Thankfully, it was just shaving soap that you probably already knew you were getting. But if it had been another, more personal gift, my whole Christmas (and, in turn, your whole Christmas) might have suffered greatly.

So, for my own Santa peace of mind (and for those, like me, who want to actually surprise others with online gift purchases,) what can I do to prevent that from happening again? How can I keep my shopping history secret if I am using a shared computer or easily accessible (or glance-able) tablet or phone?

In other words, how can I keep technology from being the Grinch that steals Christmas?

He Answers IT

It sounds like you have become acutely aware this holiday season of Interest Based Advertising, the cash cow of online marketing companies such as Google, Yahoo and Facebook, among many others. While it may be fun to see variations of that new Kate Spade purse you have been eyeing (yes, I have seen that, too,) you sure do not want a child or significant other “pre-unwrapping” your special gift. So where do those pesky ads originate, and what can you do to stop them?

Just a little background: Most of this targeted advertising comes from browser cookies that get stored by websites in your browser as you surf the web. So, one of the easiest things you can do is clear out your cookies and history after each browsing session.

But cookies are not all bad. They also store usernames and passwords for you, and may contain data entered into online forms. Maybe you have noticed that after you clear your cookies, you have to log back into all the websites that used to keep you logged in. Cookies usually do not contain personally identifiable information and may be encrypted, but do not assume they cannot be read or even changed.

There are a few things other than clearing your cookies that you can do to minimize interest based advertising.

  1. Visit where you can opt out of the currently 116 online advertisers who abide by the “Digital Advertising Alliance's (DAA) Self-Regulatory Program” all at once. According to the website, major players such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo participate. Interestingly, these opt-outs get stored in……cookies. So if your clear the cookies from your browser, you lose the opt-out settings. Also, this must be done for each browser you use.
  2. Turn on Tracking Protection in your browser. “Do Not Track” attempts to block third party sites from accessing your existing cookies or setting new ones. This is just another level of protection from sites that are not covered under number 1 above.
  3. If you want to block ads entirely, you can try a browser add-on like AdblockPlus from They have add-ons built for the popular browsers. It works very well and the level of blocking can be customized to varying degrees on different browsers.
  4. As opposed to always blocking ads with AdBlockPlus, you can prevent web surfing traces with InPrivate or Incognito browsing. A private browsing session is only good while that window is open, and it will allow you to set temporary cookies so you can at least log into a website while you are shopping.

This is only a short list of ways to hide your browsing habits from prying eyes, whether in your home or the other side of the world. Each site, like Facebook and Google, may also have other settings within your account on that site. The ways to set the privacy settings in each browser are also outside the scope of this short article, and many other computer security questions quickly come to mind. We will discuss those in another post. Until then, Happy Shopping!

R.I.P. Windows XP & Office 2003 - Support Ending SOON!

She Asks IT

On April 8, 2014, Microsoft will officially end support of its most successful and stable operating system ever, Windows XP, as well as Office 2003. What does this mean for me if I am an XP and/or Office 2003 user? 

He Answers IT

It means that no versions or editions of Windows XP will receive support or updates of any kind. The same goes for Office 2003.  No security or vulnerability updates will be released by Microsoft.

This will leave users of these products exposed to newly discovered weaknesses that hackers and virus writers are constantly looking to exploit. And security and antivirus vendors such as Trend Micro, Symantec, and McAfee will not waste time trying to protect an unsupported operating system.

Companies also face non-compliance issues. Internal and external security audits will fail, resulting in costly fines, or, worse, vendors may no longer provide access to their systems and services from non-compliant companies. Credit card PCI-DSS and healthcare HIPAA compliance are the first two compliance entities that come to mind. Other industries may have their own requirements.

Another problem already manifesting itself is that new hardware and software may not run on the older, pre-Windows 7 operating system. Many recently-released products do not run on XP and ones on the way are following suit. The reasoning is simple: why would a manufacturer bother creating printer or video drivers for an operating system that will not even be supported by its maker after April 2014? Why would Oracle trouble itself with making new Java versions that work correctly on XP? If an Adobe or Java update causes errors in Windows XP, do not expect a fix. If a new vulnerability exposes a flaw in the way Word 2003 handles macros, well, cross your fingers.

In addition to new hardware and software not running on Windows XP, vendors will eventually stop supporting existing software and hardware. This may be more gradual, but do not expect your third party applications and devices to receive support much beyond the April 8, 2014, Windows XP deadline.

One other consideration is cloud computing. Many businesses access their cloud applications through Internet Explorer and IE 8 is the most recent version you can install on Windows XP. Many cloud providers already require at least IE version 9 to interact with their servers. Others will quickly follow suit in 2014.

The primary problem is that everything else has progressed – and keeps progressing – beyond XP, Office 2003 and Internet Explorer 8. I commend Microsoft for supporting them this long. Windows Vista was released in January 2007. Many companies waited for something better. That “better” came 2 ½ years later with the release of Windows 7 in July 2009. With that release, businesses found their new standard.

Most companies have already transitioned to Windows 7, but some are resistant to change. As in anything else, however, change in technology is inevitable. For the rare few who have an old software package that cannot be upgraded and only works in XP, Windows 7 Professional can run Windows XP in a virtual machine. (Windows 8 Professional does not include the XP license, though.)

I have not run XP in a couple of years on any of my machines. The compatibility issues I began seeing were not worth the trouble. Granted, I run more varied software and do more with my computers than most end users, but everyone will start seeing these issues soon.

If you are concerned about the Windows XP/Office 2003 End-of-Support date and would like to talk to a knowledgeable technician about the best upgrade path, we encourage you to call us. We are glad to answer any questions you have and even those you do not know to ask.

We understand that upgrading computers and software can be unsettling, not to mention costly, but we will handle your upgrade with the care, attention and efficiency we would expect ourselves. Relia IT has the expertise to guide you through any upgrade every step of the way. For those still running XP or using Office 2003, now is the time to move forward.

To Click Or Not To Click

She Asks IT

It started innocently enough: an invitation to take an IQ test on Facebook.

I whipped through the seemingly easy questions, certain I had squashed Charles like a bug. But, before the app gave me my “genius” score, it asked for a bit of additional information, including my cell phone number.

I may have paused for a second, but that was it. And as soon as I entered the phone number, I found out how high my IQ really was.

I started receiving texts. Not just any texts. Premium texts that cost $9.95 each! Immediately, I called Verizon. Their kind (and non-judgmental) customer service agent removed the few charges I had already incurred and turned off the premium text messaging feature altogether, in case I bought the Brooklyn Bridge again.

Since then, I have adopted a “better safe than sorry” attitude and become more aware of possible scams and viruses. Just last week, I received an email containing a link from a social media friend. She had never before sent me an email, and I instantly let her know via text that she may have been hacked. (She had.) However, if that same message had come from someone who emailed me regularly, I might have just clicked on it without thinking.

So, how can I keep web predators at bay? How do I know if a link leads to a virus, scam or spyware?

In other words, what are the best ways to protect myself online?

He Answers IT

As you now know, scammers and spammers are good at what they do. They wrap their scams in pretty packages: fake antivirus programs with interfaces as fancy as any from a large corporation, emails from “friends” with catchy sounding links, and websites with free applications promising to fill your every need.

I have done it myself: clicked a link that spawns three or four popup windows and a shameful “oops” from me. However, when you work with computers all day, every day, it begins to give you a feel for what not to do. I get calls all the time from clients who want to run something by me before they make the “to click or not to click” decision.

It is impossible to cover everything in just a few words, but let me list a few things to watch out for:

  1. Beware of clickable links in emails, especially very short emails, no matter who they are from.

  2. Never open an attachment that has not been scanned with up to date virus scanning software. (Even then, if you do not know what it is, be extremely cautious.)

  3. Be very careful when looking for “free software” to accomplish some task, such as document conversion, .pdf creation or an online music app. It usually comes with spyware of some type. Sometimes it can be “unselected” during the install, sometimes it cannot.

  4. Finally, be extremely careful what you click on while surfing the web. Always pay attention to where the actual URL (the part that starts with http://) is taking you. Just roll over it with your mouse (For example, if you want to visit a site about Toyota vehicles, but the link shows, you can be pretty sure it is not a site worth visiting.)

All that being said, good software and hardware can handle most of the online safety decisions for you. Antivirus software, web filtering applications, firewall devices, and acceptable use policies can prevent 90 percent of the potential problems. For the other 10 percent, well, we are just a phone call away.