EarthLink Member Center Blog

Grandparents Guide to Technology

posted by Christine Macrenaris

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner


May is Older Americans Month and seniors, like the rest of us, are spending an increasing proportion of their day in cyberspace and less time in real life.

From shopping, dating and sharing, to learning, buying and teaching, older American’s interactions with the virtual world are having a greater and greater influence on how they and others see themselves, how they think and how they see the world and their place in it.

Regrettably, there is not a virtual justice system ensuring that those who use the Internet for good are rewarded and that those who do otherwise face appropriate consequences. So, in recognition of Older Americans Month, Savvy Cyber Kids wants to remind everyone that the internet is, as Thomas Friedman of the New York Times put it, “an open sewer of untreated, unfiltered information, where [we] need to bring skepticism and critical thinking to everything [we] read and basic civic decency to everything [we] write.”

Check out Savvy Cyber Kids’ Grandparent’s Guide to Technology and our in-depth analysis of seniors and the scams they need to be aware of.

The post Grandparents Guide to Technology appeared first on EarthLink Blog: Internet services, Web Hosting, IT services.

“Back-up”, I say, and “Back-up often.”

posted by Christine Macrenaris

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner


They say death and taxes are the only things that are inevitable. I’d venture to say that at some point in your life, you can also count on losing data. Everyone does.

The story of how you lost your data might be a good tale… a malicious hacker up to no good randomly unleashes a ransomware attack on your computer. You no longer have control of your PC or Mac. You know, the computer with all your financial documents, family photos and important work presentations, it’s now encrypted and unless you pay ransom in the form of bitcoin, you will never get it back. Truth be told, even if you pay, you might never get it back…

Of course, there are less dramatic ways to lose your data. Your hard drive could simply die. A virus could infect all your files. Your basement office could flood. Water damage would pretty much be the end of your computer hardware. Your home could get broken into and your computer stolen. You child could drop your laptop, irreparably damaging it. Hey, your house could burn down with your computer in it. OK, that’s a little dramatic again.

The point is, no matter the details of how you lost your data, the solution to eliminating or at least drastically limiting the consequences, all rests with you. If you back-up your data on your computer on a regular basis, tell that hacker a few short expletives and go reformat your computer. Your data is safe. Flood, fire and theft can too have limited consequences. Unlike data, hardware can be replaced.

There are many ways to ensure your data is backed up. Here are just a few options:

– Use your device provided backup options
– Use cloud storage services like Box, Dropbox, etc.
– Use backup specific services like Earthlink Online Backup, Carboninte, etc.
– Use local backup options like USB drives

Be careful out there. The digital world is filled with minefields. Remember to stop clicking stupid links from unverifiable or suspicious sources. You might find yourself with a nasty virus. So, follow my advice and be prepared for any of a number of situations where your data could be compromised:

“Go now. Back-up your data. And back it up often.”

 Clumsy children and hackers, beware. You have lost your powers of destruction.



The post “Back-up”, I say, and “Back-up often.” appeared first on EarthLink Blog: Internet services, Web Hosting, IT services.

Be Good Online. Almost Everything On The Internet Is Traceable… …And The Internet Has A Good Memory

posted by Christine Macrenaris

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner


As we all know, the power of technology has created convenience and connectivity never known before. Used for good, technology is an awesome and beautiful thing. Used carelessly or for malicious purposes, technology is a terrible beast that cannot be tamed. To keep technology working for your own benefit, you must accept that everything you put into the world-wide web – every comment you make on social media, every photo you post, every review you offer, really, just about anything you do online — is permanent. That’s right, nothing, and I mean nothing, is private.

So, repeat after me, ‘The Internet is FOREVER.’ I want you to remember these four words each time you engage on social media, email or anywhere on the Internet. Let these words guide all your online actions. If you must, tape this message onto your phone and on every computer in the house. I’m serious. Why? Because this reminder can save you from embarrassment, conflict and a whole lot worse. Let me show you how…

CONTEXT — One of the biggest tensions within online communications is that the meanings and implications of what you say online is very different from what can be more fully understood in a real conversation. A face-to-face dialogue offers clues where we can infer how we are being understood or get greater insight into what someone else is saying. Multi-dimensional signals, from visual cues like facial expressions or body language, to auditory cues like tone and level of voice, provide real-time clues that inform how we should behave and respond. By comparison, our conversations online are one-dimensional. You cannot reliably infer context in the digital world.  This means that what you say in anger or annoyance or how you react to provocation can be easily misunderstood.

MAGNIFICATION — Online communications are amplified. They are easily seen by lots of people who don’t have any perspective as to who you are personally or as to what made you upset. No doubt, the trail of what you say and do online can and will leave strong impression about you – but perhaps not the one you intended.

FACEBOOK — Pretty much every person on the planet Earth, OK, getting more specific, about 1.86 billion Facebook users, can see every comment you make, what you like and link to and your personal photos if you don’t have any privacy settings on Facebook. But even if you are on top of privacy settings, shares and screen shots can magnify what you say and do beyond your intended audience. Plus, if you have been generous in how you define a Facebook friend, you may not know every friend’s political point of view, affiliation, relations or workplace. You cannot predict how they will interpret what you say or what they will do with that information. Take heed, what you say on Facebook can have unintended and lasting consequences.

TEXT MESSAGES — Even if you delete a text conversation, it’s entirely traceable. Stored by your phone provider, police and legal proceedings can easily unearth every text you have ever sent.

EMAIL — If you have ever sent an email in anger or frustration and then, faced with regret, deleted it, you have done nothing to end the cycle of online communications. Simply put, once an email is unleashed with the unmitigated power of the send button, it is permanently etched into the everlasting memory of the digital world. The person who received the email, the people they forwarded it to, office servers that make nightly automatic back-ups, and yes, here too, police and subpoena procedures can access every email you have ever sent.

In the digital world, your words can be taken out of context. Your anger can become a defining characteristic; your actions can implicate you; and your digital reputation can shape the opportunities you gain access to. Our illusion of privacy, that private account settings and access controls will protect us, is misinformed. The reality is that anyone within our social or professional circles can take a screenshot of a private post to share as a digital image file or make a copy of a confidential document.

Be good out there, the Internet is listening.

The post Be Good Online. Almost Everything On The Internet Is Traceable… …And The Internet Has A Good Memory appeared first on EarthLink Blog: Internet services, Web Hosting, IT services.

Must. Have. Wi-Fi. Must. Have. Wi-Fi.

posted by Christine Macrenaris

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner


When it comes to Wi-Fi access, kids can make it seem an awful lot like a life or death issue. They sound like weary characters in a movie who have been crossing the dessert for days, exhausted, parched and only asking for one thing to survive…water, um, no – Wi-Fi.

For today’s youth, Wi-Fi is life and access to it has become such a necessity that an Internet meme added a Wi-Fi layer to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

But children are not alone in their reliance for pervasive Wi-Fi access, are they? Whether for work or recreation, we all need Wi-Fi and we need it now!

Our reliance on Wi-Fi was created because data access and usage charges for mobile devices via traditional cell phone providers was expensive. Only recently have many carriers begun offering unlimited data plans (even if they come with speed throttling after a specific amount of data is used, usually impacting only those that stream media such as movies on a daily basis).

Like individuals and families, businesses have the same monetary constraints associated with Wi-Fi access. The result is that we have all become accustomed to thoughtlessly gaining access to Wi-Fi in coffee shops, airports, stores, and other public locations – without hesitation and without consideration of security.

Criminals have long-recognized this as an opportunity and have not wasted any time in using our reliance on Wi-Fi for both our personal and business use to their advantage, exploiting the weaknesses inherent in wireless technologies and gaining access to our most valuable assets – our information.

It is trivial task for anyone, with proper the motivation, to learn how to setup a fake access point with a webpage that looks just like the hotspot you “think” you are connecting to. No doubt, you can recall the steps you take to gain access at a Wi-Fi hotspot…you either enter an email address or simply click an acknowledgement of terms of use. Once you are connected to the “wrong” Wi-Fi network (you wouldn’t know that, by the way), everything you send and receive can be intercepted. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other mischievous attacks that focus on Wi-Fi environments that we will not be covering here.

To be safe from this and other types of attacks, here are some actions you can take to protect your personal information and your company’s sensitive data when you are using a public Wi-Fi service.

  • Only connect to the official hotspot that is being offered in your location. Ask for the Wi-Fi network name so you know what the right one is.
  • Don’t connect to other networks that are available and open for use.
  • Once connected, launch a virtual private network (VPN) client or app. Using a VPN will help protect the data you are sending and receiving while connected. An example of a free VPN app for mobile devices (Android and iOS) is Opera VPN. For computers, Opera offers a free browser you can download with their VPN built into it (for both Windows and Mac).
  • Move off the public Wi-Fi and use your device or mobile data plan (unlimited plans keep getting cheaper and cheaper as the cell phone carriers battle for customers).
  • If you don’t use VPN, it is best to refrain from doing mobile banking, investing, or other important transactions via Wi-Fi.
  • Make sure you are running some type of anti-virus software on your computers (yes, Macs can get viruses too). Avast is one free option that runs on both operating systems if you are not already running similar software.
  • Remember that reminder you received to update your software on your computer and device? Make sure you install all those updates before connecting to public Wi-Fi.

So the next time you feel the insatiable desire to connect and feel like the free Wi-Fi you have found is like a mirage of cool, refreshing water after a walkabout on the dessert, stop, think and remember these important guidelines to keeping Wi-Fi safe.



The post Must. Have. Wi-Fi. Must. Have. Wi-Fi. appeared first on EarthLink Blog: Internet services, Web Hosting, IT services.

Keeping kids safe when connected

posted by Christine Macrenaris

Today’s children are growing up connected, which brings both benefits and risks. What can you do to help your children stay safe?


  • Conduct: Lack of physical presence can create a powerful sense of anonymity
  • Contact: Lack of physical presence causes kids to easily trust others on the other end
  • Content: Children can post too much or over-share information without realizing dangers of identity theft or malware

Staying Safe

  • At Home: Educate about online behavior and monitor online activity
  • Outside the Home: Emphasize the same etiquette when online outside the home
  • Online Etiquette: Teach kids that their posts could go viral or get publicized, and to evaluate their posts in this light
  • Use parental controls on browsers and phones to block objectionable or dangerous content
  • Run malware protection software to provide another layer of protection

The post Keeping kids safe when connected appeared first on EarthLink Blog: Internet services, Web Hosting, IT services.

If A Stranger Asks You

posted by Christine Macrenaris

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner


If someone you didn’t know approached you on the street and asked you where you lived, would you tell them? Probably not. If they asked you where you banked and for your account number and online banking password, would you consider giving out that information? Very unlikely. Face-to-face and in real time, we tend to be good at protecting what is important to us. We lock our cars, set the house alarm when we leave and stop the mail on vacations.

Somehow, these same questions and intrusions on the screen of our devices can seem less invasive and safe enough to embolden us to share our most valuable assets. I’m not talking about cherished jewelry, a new computer or a family heirloom — the items that you value the very most and have taken steps to insure and protect. Rather, what you have that is worth stealing is less visible yet valuable to you AND others, those with self-serving and malicious intent.

I’m talking about data. Profitable data. Ever get an email that “looked right” from your bank or Internet provider? Ever click on a link in an email without verifying that it’s from a safe source? These days “street smarts” are not enough to keep you safe. You need to apply those same cautious instincts in the virtual world. You need “Cyber Street Smarts” The reality is that your personal data is lucrative source of income to criminals of all kinds — from your account information to your social security number.

If you look at past and current headlines about hacking events that have led to private information being disclosed to others, you will start to see a pattern. In many cases, the sources of the stolen data have not valued their information enough to protect it from misuse. The lesson from these past mistakes is that you need to be thinking about what others value — not just about what you personally value – and protect accordingly.

Today’s IT systems when managed properly, provide a good defense to outside parties wishing to steal your data. So good, in fact, that hackers not only directly attack systems but have also adopted new strategies that compromise individuals to get the data they are after. The latest headlines about the suspected information compromises by Russian hackers that targeted the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is a prime example of the social engineering technique known as Phishing.

A common hacking technique, Phishing, involves a malicious hacker crafting an email, text message, or social media message that is written in such a way that you are compelled to click the link or open a document that is part of the message. The next step typically involves you entering your username and password (also called authentication credentials) to access a bank account, email account, social media account, or any other online service. The temptation to click and open anything has made Phishing the most widely used technique to get people to give up their access credentials for years.

There are a few actions you can take to help ensure you and your family members are not an easy target for the Phishers.

  • Stop reusing passwords. I know this a challenging request based on the many logins necessary every day, each one typically requiring you to authenticate yourself and prove it is you trying to log in by using a username and password. To save you from having to remember hundreds (at last count, I am over 800) of username and password combinations, use a reputable password manager such as Password Safe.
  • Enable strong authentication (also called multi-factor or 2 factor authentication) on ALL accounts that accept it. The multifactor aspect can come in the form of a text message sent to your phone, an email sent to the address you have on file with a service provider, a challenge request from an authenticator app, such as Google Authenticator, a voice call to a phone number on record, or another way to verify that you are actually the one trying to gain access to your account and not someone pretending to be you. For instructions on how to enable strong authentication across multiple services, review the information at the 2FA Tutorials site.
  • Verify the person or organization that sends you an email, text, or social media message with a link or attachment to click ACTUALLY sent it (and it was not forged by someone with malicious intent). You can call them or go directly to the website being used. As an example, if you receive an email from your bank or email provider asking you to reset or verify your password, open a new browser page and type the main service provider site address yourself and then login to see if indeed they need you to take any action.

To protect everything that you have that is worth stealing, fight your basic instinct to click and open anything sent to you. Take a moment to think about the action you are about to take. Should you really click that link? Be aware and stay vigilant.


The post If A Stranger Asks You appeared first on EarthLink Blog: Internet services, Web Hosting, IT services.

The Stranger in Your Gifts

posted by Christine Macrenaris

By Ben Halpert, CISO Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner


The holidays, a wonderful time of year, bring us closer to our friends and family — and ushers in a season of giving, receiving, and upgrading.  Unfortunately, when technology-enabled gifts enter our lives, so do strangers that we didn’t invite to our festivities.

On the top of many people’s wish lists in past years (and this year too!) are phones and tablets that are more powerful and capable than computers built just a few years ago. Android and iOS (the base software that makes your devices work) smartphones and tablets literally open up the world to us. When our children or grandchildren are researching new subjects for school projects on their tablets, or when we are using our phones to communicate with relatives, share our family adventures, or shop to avoid the traffic, no doubt about it, these devices significantly enhance our daily lives.

Yet before the new glow and nicety of technology enhancements fade, we should take a few minutes to understand — and ultimately reduce — the not-so-nice and naughty aspects of technology-enabled devices. In the media we often hear of crimes being committed using technology to target unsuspecting individuals, both adults and children. Thankfully, iOS and Android devices provide settings that can help to increase our privacy  (in this case, establishing limits to the detailed information about us that is exposed when we use devices).

So what can you do?

Go through your location settings and turn off location services for all apps that don’t need to be tracking your whereabouts. And for those apps that need your precise location (Waze, Uber, Lyft, etc.), select the option to enable location-tracking only when the app is in use (if that option is available).

In addition to the more obvious apps that need to use your location information to be functional, there are other apps that also like to gather information about you — for the provider’s or creator’s own purposes and uses. So turn location-tracking off for those apps, including your browser app that sends your current location to every website you visit and your camera app that shares your personal information (like your home address) on photos that you post on social media apps.

Don’t overlook the social media apps you use. Use all of the privacy setting options (including denying access to your physical location) available to you to ensure you are only sharing your personal and private information with your friends and family, not some stranger that claims to be your friend online.

If you are looking for more specific information on privacy settings for your phones or tablets, leverage the Apple and Android location privacy guides.


Savvy Cyber Kids (SCK), a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to enable youth, families and school communities to be empowered by technology, recognizes that children may be Digital Natives, who, without intervention, completely lack an understanding of the implications of their digital actions. Founded in 2007 by Internet security expert, noted speaker and author Ben Halpert, Savvy Cyber Kids provides resources for parents and teachers to educate children as they grow up in a world surrounded by technology. Savvy Cyber Kids is grateful for the ongoing support of its presenting sponsors, Digital Guardian and Ionic Security and for the support of its education series partner, Earthlink.

The post The Stranger in Your Gifts appeared first on EarthLink Blog: Internet services, Web Hosting, IT services.

Educating Your Children on Cyber Safety

posted by Taylor Esler

Educating your children on cyber security

Children are literally growing up “connected.” New social media services pop up like weeds and there is an ever-increasing number of apps and games that connect online. Additionally, many schools are migrating to cloud services, such as Google Drive, and require work to be submitted online. While this connected lifestyle has benefits, there are also risks to your child’s safety. We will explore three common risk areas and what you can do to help your children stay safe.

The Risks

  • Conduct: The lack of physical presence can create a powerful sense of anonymity. This may lead kids to act differently that would in real life.
  • Contact: The lack of physical presence often causes kids to forget that the individual on the other end may not be who they say they are or may not have their best interests in mind.
  • Content: The most popular social media sites focus on ways to capture and post content online, including messages, photos and videos. The temptation for children to “out-post” others or over-share information about themselves is very real and they often do it without realizing the consequences. Children may not realize that publicly posting personal information can lead to identity theft or malware infection.


  • Safety at Home: Educate your children about safe online behavior and closely monitor online activity.
  • Safety Outside the Home: Emphasize to your children that they should use the same etiquette they use at home when online at school or anywhere else.
  • Online Etiquette: Remember what they say online could go viral or be published in your local newspaper. Educate your children to evaluate their intended comments or postings in this light. “Would you want what you are about to post to be published in the newspaper for all to see and know that you said it?”


  • Use parental controls: Many web browsers and mobile phones offer robust features to block objectionable or dangerous content. Third party web-filtering software is also an option.
  • Run malware protection software: Malware protection can provide protection from ‘drive-by’ or otherwise misleading downloads, which children may be tempted to click on.

The post Educating Your Children on Cyber Safety appeared first on EarthLink Blog: Internet services, Web Hosting, IT services.

Recovering From Ransomware

posted by Taylor Esler


recovering from ransomware

Ransomware is a special type of malware that is actively spreading across the internet today threatening to destroy victim’s documents and other files. Ransomware is just one of many different types of malware which has become very common because it is so profitable for criminals.

Ransomware is commonly spread by emailing victims and tricking them into opening an infected attachment or clicking on a link to the attacker’s website. Once this particular type of malware infects your computer it will start encrypting your files or your entire hard drive. You are then locked out of your entire system or cannot access your important files. The malware will inform you that the only way to unlock your system to recover your files is to pay the cyber criminal a ransom to provide you with a password to decrypt your information. Most often the ransom is paid in some form of currency such as Bitcoin.

Should You Pay the Ransom?

The problem with paying the ransom is that often people pay these criminals when they are infected which motivates criminals to infect others. Though you may not have another option to recover your files, there is no guarantee you will get your files back. During the decryption process, you may be infected with additional malware. Decrypting after the ransom is paid doesn’t confirm the ransomware is removed from your device.  Ransomware can stay dormant on your device and attack again later.

Back Up Your Files

The best way to recover from ransomware without paying the ransom is to recover your files from backups. This way even if your computer is infected with ransomware you have a way of recovering files after rebuilding or cleaning up your computer. Keep in mind that if your backup can be accessed from the infected system, ransomware might delete or encrypt your backup files. Therefore, it’s important to back up files to either a reputable cloud-based service or to store your backups on external drives that are not always connected to your system. Be sure to regularly test that you can recover the files you need should your system become infected with ransomware. Backups are important as they also help you recover when you accidentally delete files or your hard drive gives out.

Further Protective Measures

  • The more current your software, the fewer known vulnerabilities your systems will have and the harder it is for cyber criminals to infect them. Therefore make sure your operating system, applications, and devices are enabled to automatically install updates.
  • Use a standard account that has limited privileges rather than privileged accounts such as administrator or root. This prevents many types of malware from being able to install themselves.
  • Cyber criminals often trick people into installing their malware for them. They might send you an email that looks legitimate and contains an attachment or a link.
  • Do not click on suspicious web browser popup windows
  • Do not open files with file extensions that are likely to be associated with malware (e.g., .bat, .com, .exe, .pif, .vbs)
  • Ensure that you have malware protection installed and do not disable malware security control mechanisms (e.g., antivirus software, content filtering software, reputation software, personal firewall) and make sure that they are continuously updated
  • Do not use administrator-level accounts for regular host operation
  • Do not download or execute applications from untrusted sources

The post Recovering From Ransomware appeared first on EarthLink Blog: Internet services, Web Hosting, IT services.

Pro Tip: Encryption How To’s

posted by Taylor Esler


You have probably heard people talk about using encryption to protect themselves and their information. In this article, we will explain what encryption is, how it protects you and how to implement it properly.

Why Use Encryption?

You might have sensitive information on your devices, such as documents, pictures and emails. If one of your devices were to be stolen, all of your sensitive information would be in someone else’s hands. Encryption protects you in these situations by helping ensure unauthorized people cannot access or modify your information.

How It Works

Encryption converts information into a non-readable format called ciphertext. Today’s encryption works by using complex math operations and a unique secret key, converting information into ciphertext. The key locks or unlocks the encrypted information. Your key could be a file stored on your computer, a password or a combination of the two.

What Can You Encrypt?

There are two types of data to encrypt:

  • Data at rest – such as the data stored on your mobile device
  • Data in motion – such as receiving email or messaging

Encrypting data at rest is vital to protect information in case your computer or mobile device is lost or stolen. Full disk encryption (FDE) is a widely used encryption technique that encrypts the entire drive in your system. This means that everything on the system is automatically encrypted for you. Today, most computers come with FDE but you might have to manually turn it on or enable it. FileVault is used on Mac computers while Windows computers can use Bitlocker or device encryption. Mobile phone encryption for the iPhone and iPads automatically enable FDE once a passcode has been set. Starting with Android 6.0 (Marshmallow), Google is requiring FDE be enabled by default provided the hardware meets certain minimum standards. Please check with your device manufacturer to determine if it supports FDE.

Information in motion is also vulnerable. If data is not encrypted it can be monitored, modified, and captured online. This is why you want to make sure that all sensitive online transactions and communications are encrypted. A common type of encryption for data in motion is HTTPS. This means that traffic between your browser and a website is encrypted. Look for https:// in the URL, a lock icon on your browser or your URL bar turning green.

Key Things to Remember

  • Your encryption is only as strong as your key.
  • If using a passcode or password for your key, make sure it is a strong, unique password.
  • The longer your password the harder it is for an attacker to guess or brute force it.
  • If you can’t remember all of your passwords we recommend a password manager to securely store your passwords.
  • If your device has been compromised or is infected by malware, cyber attackers can bypass your encryption or leverage your secret key to decrypt the data if your key is not stored securely. It is important you take other steps to secure your devices including using anti-virus, strong passwords, and keeping them updated.

The post Pro Tip: Encryption How To’s appeared first on EarthLink Blog: Internet services, Web Hosting, IT services.

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