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Heartbleed – Few things strike fear in the hearts of computer users like a VIRUS!

Normally security is never an issue for those logging into a site or entering payment information. This is because most consumers are aware that we need to look for the little padlock and https:// on the sites we give personal information.  What does that padlock and https:// mean? When you visit a secure site you will see a lock next to the URL, this means that your communications with the site are encrypted.

When a website wants to let you know that they are reliable and trustworthy, they use SSL (Secure Socket Layer).  A browser connects to a website using SSL, the data that is transferred between the browser and server is encrypted. So all attackers see is data that looks like gibberish. Attackers have found a way around that encryption and the result has been mass panic.

OpenSSL software is built into Apache. Apache is a HTTP server that is used by approximately two-thirds of the world’s websites. Most SSL-encrypted sites are based on this open-source software package.

This Heartbleed bug was added to the OpenSSL software, accidentally. Accident? I will wait until all the facts are out before I decide if I believe that. A security engineer at Google Inc. and researchers at Finnish security company Codenomicon discovered the bug. Essentially this bug allows access to the memory of the server. Once the memory is accessed our usernames, passwords and credit card information are compromised.

The Heartbeat bug was introduced over 2 years ago. Systems that used releases before December 2011 as well as those that did not use OpenSSL are safe and secure.

What Now? How do we protect ourselves? Do not freak out, it is early in the game and the information flooding in will probably change at least a dozen times in the weeks to come.

Review online banking accounts frequently. If you see suspicious activity, call the fraud dept.

Do not change passwords until the website has been patched. If they have not updated, it is pointless.

  1. Use passwords of eight characters or more with mixed types of characters.
  2. Read updates on the virus from trusted news sources.
  3. Stay away from public Wi-Fi
  4. Do use a password manager – LastPass
  5. Download Software Updates when available
  6. Turn off your router’s remote access

Here is a list of larger sites patched so far -

  • Google, YouTube and Gmail
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo, Yahoo Mail, Tumblr, Flickr

Sites you do not need to worry about are –

  • Amazon
  • AOL and Mapquest
  • Bank of America
  • Capital One bank
  • Charles Schwab
  • Chase bank
  • Citibank
  • Fidelity
  • HSBC bank
  • LinkedIn
  • Microsoft, Hotmail and Outlook
  • PayPal
  • PNC bank
  • Scottrade
  • TD Ameritrade
  • Twitter
  • U.S. Bank
  • Vanguard
  • Wells Fargo

Do not change these yet – Unclear

  • American Express
  • Apple, iCloud and iTunes
  • Healthcare.gov

Bottom line is to just be aware. This is not the first time this has happened (although not on this scale) and it will not be the last. So take a deep breath and remember “This too shall pass.”

Lori Davis, Office Manager and Accounting

Modern Web Browsers, an Introduction

After posting my latest article in February about IE6 overstaying its welcome I was met with feedback from colleagues, as well as some personal realizations… Many people these days are unaware of the benefits and features of modern browsers and the fact that other options even exist beyond what came bundled with their computer.  My goal over the coming weeks is to briefly touch on those topics in hope of enlightening the average internet user to the great alternatives available.

First things first:

What is a web browser?

A web browser, in its simplest form, is a computer program which takes text files from a virtual destination and converts the data into something functional and (hopefully) aesthetically pleasing.  The page you’re looking at now, for example, is nothing more than a bunch of textual code which has been conveniently made legible and visually attractive courtesy of your web browser.

Without getting too technical, think of your TV set, for example.  Those little waves and signals traveling through the air and through cables to your home are virtually useless until you connect them to your TV or a device that can then translate the signal into a useable picture.  Essentially a web browser acts the same, in the sense that it’s a portal to access otherwise unusable data.

What web browsers are available?

Believe it or not, the pool of browsers for you to choose from is surprisingly large.  There are, however, merely a handful that dominate the market – Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, and Internet Explorer (IE).

Firefox is produced by Mozilla, a non-profit organization with a goal of bettering the internet.  Chrome is a product of the web giant Google, Safari a product of Apple (another tech giant).  Opera is somewhat a Norwegian-based equivalent of Firefox, with Internet Explorer being the long-running product of Microsoft.

I’m interested in trying something new.  How much can I expect to pay for these other options?

Nothing.  A key point of browsers is that they are free.

Introductions aside, I’ll be reviewing each of these browsers in more depth later in this educational series, as well as covering a few of the key benefits of modern browsers that you may not be aware of.  Stay tuned!

Overstaying Your Welcome

Yes, Internet Explorer 6 (IE6), I’m talking about you.  In the world of modern internet and technology, IE6 is the virtual gallon of milk that has gone 6 years past its expiration date.  Curdled and foul, it makes you sick just thinking that it hasn’t been thrown out yet.

Similar to rotting dairy products, surfing the web on an outdated browser can be harmful to you; maybe not to your health, but to your online safety and security.  Browser updates are offered to help protect you from security holes that have been discovered in previous versions, as well as make sure you are able to enjoy the latest advances in website technology.  At worst, failing to install those updates can leave you open to a cyber attack (does the term virus ring a bell?), potentially compromising your personal information.  At best, you likely won’t be experiencing the full benefits of the rich content offered by modern websites.

Would you walk around the mall dragging your wallet behind you on a string?  If your answer is no, then do yourself a favor and make sure your browser is up-to-date.  I’ve provided links below to my preferred modern browsers (starting with highest recommendation), designed to keep you safe and provide you the best online experience possible.  Feel free to comment below if you need help finding out which version you’re running or what browser would work best for your needs.

1.  To track the exciting extinction of IE6, visit IE6Countdown.com

2.  To download the latest version of Firefox, my most highly recommended browser, visit the Mozilla website.

3.  For Google Chrome, visit their website.

4.  And if you’re stuck on Internet Explorer, which I don’t recommend, you can at least get the latest version here.