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Welcome to the Pittsburgh Tech Guy!  Your local source for good, dependable technical support and information!  Keep up with the latest Tech news here!

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Entries by Thom McClain (1309)

Sunday
Jul212019

Chrome to Stop Websites From Detecting Browser's Incognito Mode

Google is plugging a loophole in Chrome that can expose to websites whether you're browsing via Incognito Mode.

The decision is bad news for the top media publishers. Many of them use "metered paywalls" to compel incoming visitors to buy a subscription. First you'll be given four or five articles you can read for free each month; then you'll be blocked from accessing anymore unless you pay up.

To circumvent the paywalls, one trick has been to use Chrome's Incognito Mode, which can temporarily reset a browser's internet cookies. The effect can fool a news website into thinking you're an entirely new visitor, and give you access to another round of free articles to read.

However, some publishers have been fighting back by blocking article visits over Chrome's Incognito Mode. Their websites can detect this by examining the browser's "FileSystem" API, which will be disabled when in Incognito Mode.

On Thursday, Google said it plans on closing the API loophole in Chrome 76, which is scheduled to release on July 30. "We want you to be able to access the web privately, with the assurance that your choice to do so is private as well," the company said in a blog post defending the decision.

The tech giant acknowledged the change will affect news publishers with metered paywalls, at time when the media industry is struggling to stay financially afloat. "Our (Google) News teams support sites with meter strategies and recognize the goal of reducing meter circumvention, however any approach based on private browsing detection undermines the principles of Incognito Mode," Google said.

The media lobbying group, the News Media Alliance, is not happy about the upcoming change. "It's disappointing that Google is again unilaterally imposing its will on news publishers," said the group's president, David Chavern in a statement.

"Since incognito browsing circumvents soft paywalls, and therefore free-sampling opportunities, publishers may be forced to build hard paywalls that ultimately make it harder for readers to access news online," he added.

In its defense, Google said: "We remain open to exploring solutions that are consistent with user trust and private browsing principles."

Monday
Jul082019

Windows Sandbox: How to use Microsoft's simple virtual Windows PC to secure your digital life

Microsoft may be positioning its upcoming, easy-peasy Windows Sandbox within the Windows 10 May 2019 Update as a safe zone for testing untrusted applications, but it’s much more than that. Windows Sandbox, and sandboxing PC apps in general, give you a solution for trying a “utility” that may be malware, or a website that you’re not sure about. You could leave those potentially dangerous elements alone, but with Sandbox, you can be a little more adventurous. 

Windows Sandbox creates a secure “Windows within Windows” virtual machine environment entirely from scratch, and walls it off from your “real” PC. You can open a browser and surf securely, download apps, even visit websites that you probably shouldn’t. Sandbox also includes a unique convenience: you can copy files in and out of the virtual PC, bringing them out of quarantine if you’re absolutely sure they’re safe.

 

Check out the rest of the article here.

Monday
Jul082019

Who owns that shady website? These tools provide the details

Have you ever visited a website and wondered where that site and its owners are located? Shopping sites are particularly of interest, because most people want to know who the seller is and where the seller is located. Casual online browsers may also find themselves on sites that dump malware onto unsuspecting PCs, plant malicious pop-up ads, or phish for private information. Others may stumble upon sites that push conspiracy theories, hate rhetoric, or violence, which they may want to avoid or expose.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a service that revealed this information? Well, there is, and here’s how to use it.

Using WHOIS to sniff out shady sites

Many sites and organizations provide identifying site information for free. The most notable is ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), a private non-profit corporation that allocates space for IP addresses and manages domain names (among other things). The service is called WHOIS, and it provides a long list of biographical information for every website in the world. 

ICANN emails website owners (or administrators) of new sites and owners of modified existing sites requesting that users verify and update the information on all of their websites. Many people ignore these emails, but new ICANN rules demand that you respond, or ICANN will suspend your domain name (thereby, your website) for 72 hours to 15 days. To avoid suspension, add ICANN to your email whitelist. If you are suspended, visit the ICANN website to discover how to reactivate your website.

ICANN’s diligence is good news for most legitimate websites, but not so good for sites that prefer to remain anonymous. Not all anonymous sites are unscrupulous. Many site owners need to protect their privacy from fans, stalkers, professional competition, or other risks.

01 icann warning message JD Sartain / IDG Worldwide

ICANN warning message

Similar sites such as WhoIsHostingThis and Whois.net, and dozens of others are just as reliable. Your own host provider may even offer this service.

Keep in mind, however, that many websites use a domain privacy service (aka proxy protection service) like WhoIsGuard, Proxy Protection, or Domains by Proxy to protect users’ private information from being displayed on the Internet. These sites mask the site owner’s information and replace it with the host provider’s or proxy service’s information. 

So, how does one discover the hidden information on a protected website? As of this writing, you cannot legally access protected information without a valid subpoena from a law enforcement agency or representative thereof. There are workarounds, such as querying a passive DNS/WHOIS server (as opposed to a live WHOIS database server) using programs such as SecurityTrails, SurfaceBrowser, Deteque, DomainTools, and dozens more. These programs use a variety of techniques, such as cross-checking data from different datasets, studying WHOIS historical records, or researching associated domains, to name a few. None are simple, easy solutions, which is why most everyday web surfers don’t use these methods.

Scam trackers, fraud lists and site blockers

Because protected “Who Is” information is so difficult to obtain, consider using Internet Fraud Detection services such as your state’s consumer protection agency, the Bureau of Consumer Protection, or the Federal Trade Commission. The U.S. government offers guidance on avoiding and combating scams and frauds, including lists of known perpetrators.

Reputable organizations that track this information for free include the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker, which allows you to search by keywords, scam type, location, and date. Fake INet is another free service that provides a “Scam Finder” search box. Enter the URL of a suspicious website and, if guilty, Fake INet displays the site onscreen. Scam Detector and We Get Scammed For You are among the many dozens of other free services.

02 better business bureaus lists of unscrupulous websites JD Sartain / IDG Worldwide

Better Business Bureau’s lists of unscrupulous websites 

For a comprehensive list of hate group sites, try the Southern Poverty Law Center, Wikipedia’s White Nationalists site by location, or the Anti-Defamation League. If you stumble upon a suspicious site, use these services to find out more, and block it on your web browser if necessary

For propaganda (aka fake news) websites, check Wikipedia’s List of Fake News Websites,” Professor Melissa Zimdars fake news sites, the Daily Dot, Snopes, or Media Bias/Fact Check.

For pornography or other similar offensive sites, install Safernet, OpenDNS Family Shield or OPenDNS Home, Google’s Safe Search, or any of a dozen other products that range from free to $99 a year. If in doubt, just search on the site name or URL, followed by keywords such as “complaints,” “reviews,” “offensive,” “fake,” “fraudulent,” etc., and see what comes up.

If you’re serious about digging up the dirt on a site, there are verification companies that provide current reports for dangerous or disreputable websites. But these services are NOT free. For a hefty fee of $199 for one day’s worth of data or $399 for 3 days’ worth of data, you can receive a report that lists the current fraudulent websites scamming Internet users. However, note that most of these services are owned by companies in the locations you’re trying to avoid.

My advice: Use the reputable “lists” sites that are offered for free.

Sunday
Jun092019

Apple Kills iTunes: Everything You Need to Know

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Apple Kills iTunes: Everything You Need to Know

With macOS Catalina, Apple is replacing iTunes with three separate apps: Music, TV, and Podcasts. What does that mean for your files, and what about those on Windows PCs? Here's what you need to know about the demise of iTunes.

As expected, Apple announced the demise of iTunes at WWDC 2019 this week, but it's not as simple as killing the aging software and calling it a day.

Apple's iTunes has been its primary media library, media player, and iPhone management tool since 2001, but with the release of macOS Catalina, it will be going away for good, at least on Macs. Naturally, this creates a lot of questions. Here's what you need to know.

Is iTunes Really Dead?

The short and easy answer is yes, iTunes will be eliminated as a standalone app with the next update to macOS. That's expected in the fall of 2019, when Catalina arrives to replace Mojave.

Instead of having one app that handles all your music, movies, TV, and podcasts, Apple will split iTunes into three separate programs. Much like it is on iOS devices, music will be handled by Apple Music, TV and movies will be housed inside Apple TV, and podcasts will live on Apple Podcasts.

What Happens to Everything I Bought on iTunes?

Apple has a streaming music service now, but we've probably all purchased a song or album via iTunes over the years. What happens to that music when iTunes dies?

When the new Apple Music app replaces iTunes in the fall, all your purchases will transfer over. Like you do on iPhone, you'll open the Apple Music app on the Mac, where you can find songs you've bought. If you imported CDs and created playlists in iTunes, they'll be there too. If you want to buy more music, the iTunes Music Store will be accessible via the Apple Music app.

Similarly, if you purchased movies, TV episodes, or TV seasons, they'll move to the Apple TV app, where you'll also be able to rent or buy new TV shows or movies.

Podcasts will show up in the Apple Podcasts app, while audiobooks from iTunes will live in Apple Books.

How Do I Back Up My iPhone?

Apple now allows for iCloud backups, but some of us prefer to back up via iTunes, particularly when our devices are acting up.

Once iTunes is eliminated on macOS, the Finder app will handle backups. "When users connect a device to their Mac, it will immediately show up in the sidebar of Finder, enabling them to backup, update or restore their device," Apple says.

What If I Have a Windows PC?

While this is a big change for Mac users, the same can't be said for those on Windows devices. Apple is not killing iTunes for Windows, and your media library will not be broken up into three separate apps. You can still store all media on iTunes, connect your mobile device to iTunes, and back up your phone on iTunes.

This may be good news for those who don't like change, but if all goes well on macOS, Apple will likely do the same for Windows in the future. After all, iTunes was initially a Mac-only app before launching on Windows in 2003.

Can I Get the New Apps Now?

You'll have to wait until the fall to get macOS Catalina and ditch iTunes. If you want it right this second, you'll have to become an Apple developer (which costs $99 per year).

To avoid paying, you can sign up for the public beta, which is expected next month.

Keep in mind that both versions will be pre-release software, so there will be bugs. If possible, you should install it on a secondary Mac in case anything goes awry.

Why Is Apple Doing This?

Around since 2001, iTunes hasn't aged well. Apple prides itself on streamlined experiences and sleek interfaces, but iTunes has become a digital eyesore, bloated with too many services.

On iOS and the upcoming iPadOS, meanwhile, Apple has already separated music, TV, and podcasts into three apps. So it makes sense for Apple to bring its desktop OS more in line with mobile.

 

 

 

Monday
May132019

How to block a driver update on Windows 10

Driver updates are fairly common on any desktop operating system. Some driver updates are bundled with major and/or minor OS updates while others download individually whenever they’re available. Driver updates aren’t as critical as security updates so it’s okay if you skip them or don’t install them immediately. In some cases though, a driver might actually break your system. The only problem is, it’s rather difficult to block a driver update on Windows 10 since they tend to download and install in the background.

Sunday
Apr212019

Should you drop your iPhone battery to 0 Percent?  No

 

Running a smartphone until it's dead—a full discharge—every time is not the way to go with modern Lithium-ion batteries. Don't even let it get that close to 0 percent. That wears out a Lithium-ion battery even faster than normal. Partial discharge is the way to go.

Batteries are on borrowed time from the get-go. The insides are in a state of decay that can't be helped. Over time, they're simply going to hold less and less power. If you've got an old iPhone 5 or 6 still in use and wonder why it's only got a charge for a few hours compared to the almost full day you got when it was new, that's why. The capacity diminishes over time.

The only time you would want to go out of your way to drain a smartphone battery to zero is to recalibrate the internal sensor that displays your phone's battery level. It's hardly guaranteed—in fact, many people don't think it works at all—but it's recommended by some, especially if you've got a phone that hits 10 percent (or even 20 or 30 percent) and seems to abruptly die.

Even if you do use the phone all the way to auto-shutdown, that may not mean the battery is at 0 percent. Leave the phone be for a few hours, if you believe this is worth doing. Then give it a reset (holding down the Home and sleep/wake button simultaneously) for good measure.

Best Thing to Do: Plug the phone in before it asks you to enter a low-power mode; iOS will ask you to turn that on when you hit 20 percent power. Plug it in when the phone is between 30 and 40 percent. Phones will get to 80 percent quickly if you're doing a fast charge. Pull the plug at 80 to 90, as going to full 100 percent when using a high-voltage charger can put some strain on the battery. Keep the phone battery charge between 30 and 80 percent to increase its lifespan.

Fast charging like we've seen in Android phones for a while finally arrived with the iPhone 8 and X. Before, it took an iPhone a couple of hours to go up 50 percent. Apple claims the 8 and up can increase 50 percent in only 30 minutes with the right chargers. That requires a USB-C power adapter, which in turn means owning a special USB-C-to-Lightning cable, neither of which are included with an iPhone; or using a higher voltage charger like the one from an iPad or even a MacBook.