Want an Early Warning System for COVID-19 Infections? Install NOVID! IT Consultants in Los Angeles

With vaccinations underway, there’s light at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic tunnel. But given the enormity of the task and the unknowns surrounding coronavirus variants, we’ll still be in this tunnel for some time to come. Happily, there’s a new app called NOVID that, if you and your friends (and their friends, etc.) install it, provides early warning as COVID-19 infections creep closer in your personal network of connections. It’s like weather radar for disease.

Developed by a Carnegie Mellon University math professor, NOVID is a free app for iOS and Android that relies on roughly the same smartphone proximity detecting technique as the Apple/Google exposure notification technology. If your phone can use Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or ultrasound to detect another nearby phone with NOVID installed, the two phones record that completely anonymous interaction.

However, where the Apple/Google technology notifies you only if you have been directly exposed at some point in the past, forcing you to quarantine and get tested, NOVID helps you look into the future and evaluate your personal risk of being infected. That’s because the Apple/Google technology stops at 1 degree of separation—you only learn about exposures to people with whom you have directly interacted, and only well after the fact. NOVID goes way beyond that, tracking infections out to 12 degrees of separation and showing you how far away they are.

Think about what that means. If a friend’s father gets sick, you probably wouldn’t hang out with your friend until it was certain that she wasn’t also infected. That’s 2 degrees of separation. Imagine 3 degrees of separation—another friend’s spouse works in an office where a colleague tested positive. That still feels pretty close, and you’d probably take more precautions than normal with your friend.

Beyond 3 degrees of separation, however, it’s unlikely you’d ever know about infections. Plus, you would only learn about infections that are 2 or 3 degrees of separation away from you if everyone involved knows each other. What if that 3rd-degree infection was a guy at a bar that an appliance repair person chatted with several nights before fixing your friend’s dishwasher? That’s where anonymous smartphone proximity sensing comes in.

NOVID solves these problems by building your network of personal interactions out to 12 degrees of separation, showing you both how many connections and how many infections are at each level of your network. As infections get closer, you can take more precautions to reduce your chances of being exposed to the coronavirus.

What’s most fun about NOVID is that its statistics show it working. It tells you how many other NOVID users you meet each day, and tapping the graph even tells you how NOVID detected their presence (ultrasound is more accurate than Bluetooth, and Bluetooth is more accurate than Wi-Fi).

NOVID also provides some community-level statistics if users choose to provide the first three digits of their ZIP codes. You can see how many people are in your greater ZIP code, how many cases are in the community, the size of the average user’s network, and even the iOS versus Android breakdown.

The key to making NOVID useful is adoption, so here’s our pitch. Install NOVID and ask a couple of friends or family members with whom you come into contact to do so as well. Then ask them to encourage a few of their friends or family members to install it and keep recommending it. Think of it as an early warning system that leverages the same kind of person-to-person transmission exploited by the coronavirus itself. And if a city—like Santa Fe—or a college campus—like Georgia Tech—were to recommend NOVID more broadly, that would be a super-spreader event on the positive side of the balance sheet!

We’ve all installed NOVID. Will you join us in building a network for community-wide early warning of approaching COVID-19 infections?

(Featured image based on an original by Kate Trifo from Pexels)


Keep Your Mac Quiet at Night and During Presentations with Do Not Disturb – IT Consultants in Los Angeles

We’re all accustomed to the Do Not Disturb feature on our iPhones since they’re with us for most of the day and often spend the night next to the bed. But Apple long ago added Do Not Disturb to the Mac as well, and it’s useful for muting your Mac at night to eliminate unnecessary noises and for preventing unwanted notifications during presentations. In System Preferences > Notifications > Do Not Disturb, you can tell macOS to turn the feature on during specific times, when the display is sleeping or locked, and when mirroring to another screen. Or, you can turn on Do Not Disturb manually—you might want to do this when giving a presentation with Zoom or another videoconferencing app. In macOS 10.15 Catalina and earlier, do this in Notification Center by clicking it at the far right of the menu bar, scrolling up, and enabling the Do Not Disturb switch. In macOS 11 Big Sur, you find Do Not Disturb in Control Center.

(Featured image by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels)

Forget Adobe Acrobat: Preview May Be All You Need to Work with PDFs – IT Services in Los Angeles

We regularly hear from people who think they need Adobe Acrobat DC to manipulate PDFs. Don’t misunderstand: Adobe Acrobat is the gold standard, but it’s complicated and expensive—$14.99 per month or as part of Creative Cloud for $52.99 per month. In contrast, Apple’s Preview is easy and free with macOS. Here are six tasks that people may think require Acrobat but can easily be accomplished in Preview.

Remove and Rearrange or Export Pages

Have a PDF with unnecessary pages? You can delete them in Preview. First, make sure page thumbnails are showing in the sidebar by choosing View > Thumbnails. Then select the pages you want to remove and press Delete. Choose File > Save when you’re done—you’ll need to do that after all the rest of these tasks too.

Rearranging pages also happens in the sidebar—just drag the thumbnails as needed. If you drag a thumbnail to the Finder, Preview exports the page as its own PDF file.

Merge and Add Pages

What about putting pages from one PDF into another? Preview has your back there too. Open both PDFs, make sure their sidebars are showing page thumbnails, and then drag one or more thumbnails from one sidebar to the other, dropping them between the desired pages in the destination.

You can also drag a PDF from the Finder into the sidebar to add all its pages. Or, to take a photo or scan a document and insert it into the document, Control-click in the sidebar and choose Import from iPhone or iPad.

Annotate Text

Let’s say someone asks for edits or comments on a PDF. Although you can’t change the text with Preview, you can mark up the document.

  • Highlight text: They may give you flashbacks to high school, but Preview provides a handful of colored highlighters, along with underline and strikethrough styles. Choose one from the Highlight menu in the toolbar and then select the desired text.
  • Add highlight notes: To ensure that your highlights make sense to others, add notes to them. Control-click the highlighted text and choose Add Note. Then enter your note in the colored box that appears. It shrinks when you click away from it and expands when you click it again.
  • Add general notes: You can also place faux sticky notes anywhere on a PDF page. Reveal the Markup toolbar by clicking the Markup button, and then click the Note button. Drag the closed note box to position it on the page. See all your notes in the sidebar by choosing View > Highlights and Notes.
  • Add shapes and text boxes: The Markup toolbar also contains controls for creating various shapes (including lines with arrows) and text boxes. At times, the best way to show what you mean is to put a box, line, or text directly on the page. Click a shape to add it—text you type while it’s selected sticks with the shape, like the speech balloon below and the arrows above.

If you do need to edit the text of a PDF, that’s a job for Adobe Acrobat or another PDF tool like Smile’s PDFpen.

Redact Text

Sometimes, when you’re sharing a PDF, you want to redact sensitive information so it can’t be read. macOS 11 Big Sur’s version of Preview can permanently obscure and delete selected text from the document. Choose Tools > Redact and select the text you want to hide.

In earlier versions of macOS, you can simulate redaction by covering text with a colored rectangle. Unfortunately, recipients could delete your rectangle or copy the text underneath it. Don’t depend on this workaround to protect confidential information. For true redaction in older versions of macOS, use Acrobat or PDFpen.

Fill PDF Forms

Although Preview cannot create fillable PDF forms (again, turn to Acrobat or Smile’s PDFpenPro), it works fine for entering information into such forms. If you have to fill out an IRS form for your employer, for instance, Preview should work fine. Just click in a field and type, or click a checkbox to select it.

One warning. We’ve heard occasional reports that Windows users reading PDFs with forms filled out in Preview sometimes don’t see the entered text. When returning an important form, it’s always best to ask the recipient to confirm that it worked. If it doesn’t, fall back on the free Adobe Acrobat Reader DC.

Sign Documents

Now that so much paperwork has gone digital, we often need to sign PDFs. The most important documents will probably use a service like SignEasy that’s designed for collecting legally binding, secure signatures. But for something like a simple permit application, you can add your signature in Preview by clicking the Signature button in the Markup toolbar and choosing it.

Inserting (and resizing) an already created signature is easy, as is the one-time process of making one. Click the Signature button, and then click Create Signature. If your Mac has a trackpad, write on it with your finger or a rubber-tipped iPad stylus. Or use a marker to write your signature on paper and take a picture of it with the camera. In macOS 10.15 Catalina and later, you can also create a signature on an iPhone or iPad. Once created, the signature sticks around in Preview and even syncs to your other Macs through iCloud.

Note that Preview’s signature is just a graphic that could be copied, so it’s no more protected than a handwritten signature that could be scanned or photocopied.

Useful as all these features are, they’re just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what Preview can do, particularly with graphics. For a complete look at Preview’s features, check out the 178-page ebook Take Control of Preview.

(Featured image by Cytonn Photography from Pexels)


Keep iPhone 12 and MagSafe Accessories Away from Pacemakers – LA IT Support

Remember when we had to keep magnets away from floppy disks to avoid scrambling them? Modern storage is no longer vulnerable, but magnets and electromagnetic fields from consumer electronics can interfere with medical devices, like implanted pacemakers and defibrillators. Although iPhone 12 models contain more magnets than prior models, Apple says they’re not expected to pose a greater risk of magnetic interference. However, after a study found that one pacemaker could be deactivated by holding an iPhone 12 near it, Apple issued a support document recommending that you keep your iPhone 12 and MagSafe accessories more than 6 inches (15 cm) away from your medical device or more than 12 inches (30 cm) away while wirelessly charging. Better safe than sorry—if you have a pacemaker, don’t put your iPhone or any other consumer electronics in a breast pocket.

(Featured image by Ulrike Leone from Pixabay)

M1-Based Macs Have New Startup Modes: Here’s What You Need to Know – IT Services in LA

For many years, Macs have relied on sets of keys held at startup to enable specific modes. Most notably, pressing Option displays the Startup Manager and lets you pick a boot drive, Command-R starts up from macOS Recovery, Command-Option-P-R resets the NVRAM, Shift starts up in Safe mode, D opens Apple Diagnostics to check the hardware, and T starts up in Target Disk Mode. Needless to say, obscure key combinations aren’t the friendliest way to help someone who may already be stressed out about their Mac not working, so Apple improved things for the new M1-based Macs.

The most important part is that you no longer have to press a key combination during startup. Instead, press and hold the power button until the screen shows “Loading startup options…” and displays the Startup Manager.

Unfortunately, Apple is still a little fast and loose with terms, so we’ve tried to list all of the ones you might see.

Startup Manager / Startup Disk

If you have multiple boot drives and wish to switch among them, you’ll want to use Startup Manager. Immediately after you see “Loading startup options…,” the Mac displays the new Startup Manager, which shows icons for all the bootable drives, along with buttons for Options, Shut Down, and Restart. To boot from a particular drive, select it and click Continue under it.

If you work your way into macOS Recovery but then want to back out in order to select a startup drive, look in the Apple menu for a Startup Disk command, which provides similar functionality with a slightly different look.

Startup Manager (but not Startup Disk) also lets you start up in Safe mode and set a drive as the default to use for booting. First, select a drive. Then, for Safe mode, press the Shift key and click the Continue in Safe Mode button below it. To set a selected drive as the default, press the Control or Option key and click the Always Use button underneath it.

Note that M1-based Macs can’t boot from just any external drive. We’re all still learning about the new platform, but it seems that you need a Thunderbolt 3 SSD that has been freshly formatted with APFS and set up with a new installation of macOS 11.1 Big Sur. See Howard Oakley’s writeup for details.

macOS Recovery / Recovery

When you need to reinstall macOS or restore from a Time Machine backup, head to macOS Recovery. From the Startup Manager screen, select Options and click Continue underneath it. After you choose a language, an initial macOS Recovery screen appears. Note that you have access to the Apple menu, which lets you choose Startup Disk, Restart, or Shut Down, and to the Recovery Assistant menu, which includes a potentially useful Erase Mac command.

macOS Recovery presents you with a list of users. Select one for which you know the login password, click Next, and enter the password when prompted. Now, in the Recovery app, you can restore from Time Machine, reinstall Big Sur, launch Safari to browse the Web and get online help from Apple, and open Disk Utility to manage drives.

The Recovery app has a full set of menus, and notice Utilities in particular. It lets you launch the Startup Security Utility, to reduce the macOS security level, or Terminal, if you want to run command-line tools before startup. (The old macOS single-user mode accessible by holding down S at startup has disappeared.) To return to the Recovery app from any other app, quit the current app. Finally, note that the Recovery app’s Window menu has an option for Recovery Log. As is often the case with logs, it may be inscrutable to all but high-level support experts.

Oddly, once you’re in macOS Recovery, there’s no way to return to the Startup Manager.

Target Disk Mode / Share Disk

If you ever want to access one Mac’s drives from another, you can connect the two Macs via a USB or Thunderbolt cable and use Target Disk Mode. On M1-based Macs, you initiate Target Disk Mode using a command in the Recovery app’s Utilities menu: Share Disk.

Choose Utilities > Share Disk to start sharing one of the M1-based Mac’s drives via Target Disk Mode. Select the drive and click Start Sharing. When you’re done using it, click Stop Sharing before disconnecting the cable.

Apple Diagnostics / Diagnostics Loader

If you’re worried that your M1-based Mac is suffering from a hardware failure, running Apple Diagnostics may shed some light on the problem. Oddly, getting to Apple Diagnostics still requires a hidden keystroke.

Once you’re in the Startup Manager screen, press and hold Command-D to reboot the Mac into the Diagnostics Loader app. You can choose to run the diagnostics offline or to share the information with Apple.

After you pick one, the diagnostics run right away and report back when they’re done. If you have an M1-based MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, make sure to plug it in first, or you’ll get an error telling you that the power adapter couldn’t be found.

The troubleshooting approaches that no longer seem to be available in any way are to reset the NVRAM (Non-Volatile RAM) or the SMC (System Management Controller). Apparently, the NVRAM tests itself at startup and resets automatically if necessary. M1-based Macs reportedly don’t have an SMC in the same way as Intel-based Macs, so there’s no option to reset it.

(Featured image by Apple)


New Features You May Have Missed in the iOS 14.1, 14.2, and 14.3 Updates – IT Support Los Angeles

We’ve published overviews of the major features in iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, along with detailed looks at our favorite features. But Apple keeps releasing updates with new features, and we wanted to take a moment to catch you up on what Apple has added in versions 14.1, 14.2, and 14.3. (If you’re running iOS 14 or iPadOS 14, you should update to the latest version, which is 14.3 as of this writing. There’s no benefit to staying at an interim version.)

Here’s what you may have missed.

Apple Fitness+

The highest-profile change in Apple’s recent updates is support for Apple Fitness+. It provides studio-style streamed video workouts that you can participate in using an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV. The linchpin of the system is the Apple Watch, which tracks your fitness metrics and progress and stores them in the Fitness app (previously called Activity).

Apple Fitness+, which can be shared by up to six family members through Family Sharing, costs $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year. All current owners of an Apple Watch Series 3 or later get a free month to try it out, and if you buy a new Apple Watch, Apple will give you 3 months for free.

If you have an Apple Watch and more exercise figured in your New Year’s resolutions, give Apple Fitness+ a try and see if you find it fun and worthwhile.

Intercom

Tired of yelling to get the attention of other members of your household? If you have two more HomePod speakers, you can use the new Intercom feature to send and receive messages through the HomePods. You can also send and receive messages through an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or Apple Watch, or in your car with CarPlay.

To enable Intercom, open the Home app, tap the house icon at the upper left ➊, and tap Home Settings. In the Settings screen, tap Intercom ➋ and set when you want to receive notifications, who should be allowed to send and receive them when away from home, and which HomePods to use.

Once you’ve enabled Intercom, you can most easily invoke it with Siri on any of your devices using trigger words like “intercom,” “tell,” “announce,” or “ask.” You can also send messages solely to a HomePod in a specific room or zone by specifying its name in the message. For example:

“Hey Siri, announce ‘It’s time to leave now!’”
“Hey Siri, ask upstairs ‘Did anyone feed the fish?’”

You can also access Intercom from within the Home app. Tap the waveform button in the upper-right corner of the screen (➌ above), record your message, and tap the Done button to send it.

When you hear an Intercom message, you can reply. If the message went to the entire Home, your reply will as well. However, if the message was sent to your specific room, your response will go only to the device that sent the message. And you can always direct a reply to a particular speaker. For example:

“Hey Siri, reply ‘I’m almost ready to go, honest!’”
“Hey Siri, reply downstairs ‘Yes, I fed Goldie.’”

Loud Headphone Alerts

If you’re worried about damaging your hearing with too-loud headphone volumes (and you should be), go to Settings > Sounds & Haptics > Headphone Safety. There you can enable a notification that will tell you if you exceed the recommended limit for noise exposure (volume and time) as set by the World Health Organization.

That’s nice from a retrospective point of view, but more useful are the controls below, which let your iPhone actively protect your hearing by reducing the volume of sounds over a certain decibel level.

Optimized AirPods Pro Charging

Apple says that it has now tweaked AirPods Pro charging to increase the lifespan of the battery. It does this by delaying charging past 80% to reduce the amount of time the batteries stay fully charged. Apple previously did this with the iPhone and Apple Watch. Given that there’s no way to replace the battery in the AirPods Pro, anything that extends their useful life is welcome. Sadly, this feature isn’t available for the standard AirPods. If you find that the feature regularly prevents your AirPods Pro from having a full charge, you can turn it off in Settings > Bluetooth (make sure the AirPods Pro case is open or they’re in your ears). Tap the i button next to your AirPods Pro and turn off Optimized Battery Charging.

Launch Shortcuts on the Home Screen Directly

In iOS 14, the Shortcuts app lets users assign custom icons to shortcuts, which has led some to become obsessed with customizing their Home screens with shortcuts that launch their favorite apps. Dedicated designers have created all sorts of Home screen looks, ranging from the minimalist to the wacky. The only problem was that these shortcuts first launched the Shortcuts app and then switched to the desired destination app. As of iOS 14.3, shortcuts now launch directly from the Home screen without passing through the Shortcuts app.

Use Ecosia as Safari’s Default Search Engine

Want to move away from Google as your default search engine? iOS has long provided other options, including Yahoo, Microsoft’s Bing, and the privacy-focused DuckDuckGo. Apple has now added Ecosia, which is privacy-friendly and donates 80% or more of its profits to non-profit organizations that focus on reforestation. It’s a small way you can help fight climate change. It’s worth keeping in mind that Yahoo is a rebadged version of Bing, DuckDuckGo relies heavily on Bing, and Ecosia delivers results from Bing, enhanced by its own algorithms. In other words, when it comes to the quality of the search results, your choices are really between Google and Bing.

New Privacy Labels in the App Store

In Apple’s latest salvo against privacy-abusing apps and services, the company now requires all developers to provide information in App Store listings about what data collected by the app is linked to you personally and what data will be used to track your online movements. Apple doesn’t verify the information, and there’s no way to know if the developer is being truthful. Nonetheless, it’s good to see Apple pushing developers to be more transparent about their privacy practices. In the screenshot below, compare the ten screens of App Privacy details for what Facebook hoovers up with what is collected by the privacy-focused messaging app Signal: just your phone number, which is necessary for others to contact you.

App Clip Codes

In non-pandemic times, the new App Clips feature of iOS 14 might have gotten more attention. App Clips are lightweight versions of an app that let people perform quick tasks—ordering a latte, renting a scooter—without downloading and configuring the full app. Apple encourages developers using App Clips to advertise their presence with App Clip Codes, which look a little like QR codes but are dedicated to launching App Clips. Now that iOS 14.3 has added support for App Clip Codes, if you notice one while you’re out and about, try scanning it with your camera to see what App Clip pops up.

iOS 14’s updates have added plenty of smaller features as well, such as over 100 new emojis, an Apple TV+ tab in the Apple TV app, additional data options in the Health app’s Cycle Tracking feature, air quality data and recommendations in more countries, and detection of people in Magnifier (which is helpful for users who are blind or who have low vision).

So if you have kept your iPhone or iPad up to date but haven’t noticed these new features, give them a try!

(Featured image based on an original Web page by Apple)


Apple Provides Sensible Device and Data Access Safety Advice – Los Angeles IT Consultants

Our iPhones are the keys to our digital lives, holding our most private photos, conversations, and financial data, among much else. That’s why Apple goes to such lengths to help us protect our privacy and security. But we all have people with whom we share some level of access, whether that means shared photo albums, shared locations, or even shared passcodes. Unfortunately, trusted relationships sometimes disintegrate, occasionally in ugly ways that could endanger your safety. If that happens, you want to make sure to disable whatever sharing you had with such a person. You can always turn to us for help, of course, but Apple has now published “Device and Data Access when Personal Safety Is At Risk,” a clear, sensible PDF guide that explains the many ways of sharing data using Apple devices and services, along with details on how to see with whom you’re sharing—and how to stop that sharing. Even if you aren’t worried about your safety in this regard, it’s worth reading the guide and revisiting your settings to make sure you’re sharing only with intended people.

(Featured image by samer daboul from Pexels)

Apple Expands the AirPods Line with AirPods Max Headphones – LA IT Support

If you think of AirPods as earbuds, you’re not alone. But just as Apple has given us larger iPhone Max models, the company has now introduced the AirPods Max, which expand the traditional earbuds to full-sized headphones. The AirPods Max offer top-notch Apple design, premium materials, Active Noise Cancellation (with Transparency mode), Adaptive EQ, spatial audio, and tight integration into the Apple ecosystem with the custom H1 chip. They boast 20 hours of battery life, and the audio quality is reportedly very good, if not at the level of high-end audiophile headphones. The only negatives are the $549 price and the odd-looking soft case. They come in space gray, silver, sky blue, green, and pink and require iOS 14.3, iPadOS 14.3, or macOS 11.1 Big Sur.

(Featured image by Apple)

Not Enough Space to Install iOS 14 or iPadOS 14? Try This Approach – IT Consultants in Los Angeles

Suppose you have an older iPhone or iPad, especially one with only 16 GB of storage. In that case, it’s possible that you won’t have enough space to upgrade to iOS 14 or iPadOS 14 through Settings > General > Software Update. That’s often true due to an inexplicably large Other category when you look in Settings > General > iPhone/iPad Storage. Upgrading using iTunes (in macOS 10.14 Mojave and earlier) or the Finder (in 10.15 Catalina and later) is one workaround, but there’s another that’s often better. Make a backup to iCloud (Settings > Your Name > iCloud > iCloud Backup > Back Up Now) or to your Mac with iTunes or the Finder, and then erase your device (Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings). When you restore it, the size of the Other storage category will likely have dropped significantly, making it possible to upgrade iOS.

(Featured image based on originals by stokpic and Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

5 New Year’s Resolutions That Will Improve Your Digital Security – Los Angeles IT Support

Happy New Year! For many of us, the start of a new year is an opportunity to reflect on fresh habits we’d like to adopt. Although we certainly support any resolutions you may have made to get enough sleep, eat healthy, and exercise, could we suggest a few more that will improve your digital security?

Keep Your Devices Updated

One of the most important things you can do to protect your security is to install new operating system updates and security updates soon after Apple releases them. Although the details seldom make the news because they’re both highly specific and highly technical, you can get a sense of how important security updates are by the fact that a typical update addresses 20–40 vulnerabilities that Apple or outside researchers have identified.

It’s usually a good idea to wait a week or so after an update appears before installing it, on the off chance that it has undesirable side effects. Although such problems are uncommon, when they do happen, Apple pulls the update quickly, fixes it, and releases it again, usually within a few days.

Use a Password Manager

We’ve been banging this drum for years. If you’re still typing passwords in by hand, or copying and pasting from a list you keep in a file, please switch to a password manager like 1Password or LastPass. Even Apple’s built-in iCloud Keychain is better than nothing. A password manager has five huge benefits:

  • It generates strong passwords for you. Password1234 can be hacked in seconds.
  • It stores your passwords securely. An Excel file on your Desktop is a recipe for disaster.
  • It enters passwords for you. Wouldn’t that be easier than typing them in manually?
  • It audits existing accounts. How many of your accounts use the same password?
  • It lets you access passwords on all your devices. Finally, easy login on your iPhone!

A bonus benefit for families is password sharing. It allows, for example, a married couple to share essential passwords or for parents and teens to share certain passwords.

In short, using a password manager is more secure, faster, easier, and just all-around better. If you need help getting started, get in touch.

Beware of Phishing Email

Individuals and businesses alike frequently suffer from security lapses caused by phishing, forged email that fools someone into revealing login credentials, credit card numbers, or other sensitive information. Although spam filters can catch many phishing attempts, it’s up to you to be on your guard at all times. Here’s what to watch for:

  • Any email that tries to get you to reveal information, follow a link, or sign a document
  • Messages from people you don’t know, asking you to take an unusual action
  • Direct email from a large company for whom you’re an anonymous customer
  • Forged email from a trusted source asking for sensitive information
  • All messages that contain numerous spelling and grammar mistakes

When in doubt, don’t follow the link or reply to the email. Instead, contact the sender in some other way to see if the message is legit.

Avoid Sketchy Websites

We won’t belabor this one, but suffice it to say that you’re much more likely to pick up malware from sites on the fringes of the Web or that cater to the vices of society. To the extent that you can avoid sites that provide pirated software, “adult” content, gambling opportunities, or sales of illicit substances, the safer you’ll be. That’s not to say that reputable sites haven’t been hacked and used to distribute malware too, but it’s far less common.

If you are concerned after spending time in the darker corners of the Web, download a free copy of Malwarebytes or DetectX Swift and scan for malware manually.

Never Respond to Unsolicited Calls or Texts

Although phishing happens mostly via email, scammers have also taken to using phone calls and texts. Thanks to weaknesses in the telephone system, such calls and texts can appear to come from well-known companies, including Apple and Amazon. Even worse, with so much online ordering happening, fake text messages pretending to help you track packages are becoming more common.

For phone calls from companies, unless you’re expecting a call back from a support ticket you opened, don’t answer. Let the call go to voicemail, and if you feel it’s important to respond, look up the company’s phone number elsewhere, and talk with someone at that number rather than one provided by the voicemail.

For texts, avoid following links unless you recognize the sender and it makes sense that you’d be receiving such a link. (For instance, Apple can text delivery details related to your orders.) Regardless, never enter login information at a site you’ve reached by following a link because there’s no way to know if it’s real. Instead, if you want to learn more, navigate manually to the company’s site by entering its URL yourself, then log in.

Let’s raise a glass to staying safe online in 2021!

(Featured image based on originals from Tim Mossholder and Jude Beck on Unsplash)