Blog on Blogging


Q:What is a blog? Is it a noun? A verb? A hybrid blue dog? 

A: All of the above, well, minus the dog.

 

It’s something that many writers used to abhor, and now adore. Essentially, it’s a hosted website where visitors see a stream of regularly updated posts authored by you, the owner/user of the blog. 

This includes pictures, essays, one liners, links, and whatever the site’s owner desires. 

You say, “Well, I have a lot of awesome thoughts and pictures and memories that I’d love to share with the world! How can I start my own blog?” Lucky for you, Socket’s got your back. We’re going to tell you all about the top blog platforms and where to begin.

Two of the most widely used platforms for blogging are Blogger and Wordpress.

 

Blogger

Blogger is a great platform, and one of the multitude of free services offered by Google. It’s an easy start for those without much technical knowledge.

The main advantages to using Blogger are the absolute no upfront investment, including templates, storage, search engine optimization (SEO), and the ability to use custom domain names.

Unfortunately, social media cannot be integrated into a Blogger blog, and Google could potentially shut it down without notice if it desires.

 

Wordpress

Wordpress.com is as well known and widely used as, if not more so than, Blogger. One of the best things about Wordpress is its versatility and the availability of third-party support. Wordpress has a copious amount of plug-ins, widgets, templates, etc. that work natively with the program.

As with Blogger, Wordpress allows users with limited technical knowledge to easily manipulate their site, while still providing more advanced users with a powerful tool for editing. 

Wordpress plays nicely with social media and has a very high level of security. This community is backed by more than 720,000 visits per month from users and developers.

Lastly, Wordpress also has a counterpart, Wordpress.org, that is a versatile platform for self-hosted sites, and allows easy migration of content from other Wordpress sites.

With these awesome features come a few drawbacks. Namely, you cannot use a custom domain on a free site hosted on Wordpress.com (though you can on Wordpress.org), and the platform does not allow running ads (with a few exceptions, so monetizing the site is less of an option.

 

Weebly and Other Blog Services

Relatively new to the scene of blogs and websites is Weebly. Since its inception, it has been hailed as the easiest way to build any blog or website. With drag-and-drop options, free templates for both blogs and personal sites and eStores or commercial sites, the platform continues to be a standout performer.

Weebly also offers its own analytics software, making it easy for virtually anyone to manage their site’s stats. Pages are also resized automatically into mobile versions.

Aside from these top options, you’ll find a host of other services with equally capable platforms that can be used for your needs. Sites such as Livejournal, Tumblr, and more have tailored platforms for each specific user base, so you’ll find something perfect for you.

Getting Rid of Old Electronics


Consumer electronics are constantly being replaced and updated with even newer technology. So what do you do with your old phone or computer? Here are a few suggestions for safely getting rid of old electronics. 
 
Step 1: Backup! Backup! Backup!
Before you ditch that old device, make sure everything you need is backed up. From contacts to photos, don’t overlook items that you may want on your new device or for your records. Don’t forget things like old emails or messages, favorite websites and bookmarks, as well as desktop items.
 
You can use a cloud-based service like DropBox, iCloud or Google Drive. Or if you prefer traditional storage, you can conduct file backups or full restore setups to save files to an external hard drive. 
 
Step 2: Wipe
Now that you’ve ensured you haven’t lost any data, you need to make sure others can’t get it off of your old device. This is especially important if you plan to sell or give your device to someone you don’t know.
 
Many devices, such as phones and tablets, have a built-in option in the settings app to perform a “Factory Reset.” A quick Google search should tell you where to find it.
 
For computers, simply deleting old files won’t cut it, though. You’ll need to do some work to the hard drive to make sure your data won’t be accessible. You can remove the hard drive entirely, or simply reformat it. Third-party applications like Boot and Nuke will wipe hard drives and guide you through deleting personal data. Keep in mind that, if you completely wipe a hard drive, the computer will not run until a fresh operating system is installed.
 
Whew! Now that the technical mumbo-jumbo has been taken care of, take a breather, grab a soda, and learn where to get rid of that darn device.
 
Step 3: Get rid of it!
When deciding where to send your old electronics, think first of any friends and family who might benefit from your device. Your slow laptop may be perfect for that fourth-grade nephew learning to type, or that older camera might be great for a high school student learning about photography. You may know many people who can still use these items.
 
Local retailer recycling programs offer “green” initiatives to recycle old devices. Check out a store such as BestBuy or Staples. Goodwill also provides e-waste recycling.
 
Mid-Mo Recycling in Columbia also offers disposal services for old electronic devices. Their complete breakdown operation separates plastics, metals and trash and salvages parts that can be recycled. Their “hard drive destroyer” can grind up old hard drives to ensure it’s not readable by anyone, ever.
 
Special programs can take proceeds from recycled electronics and fund non-profits. For example, The Wireless Foundation collects old phones to help end family violence. Other programs, like StRUT (Students Recycling Used Technology) allow students the opportunity to gain valuable experience by refurbishing donated old electronics.
 
Another great option is online recycling and reselling programs. Ebay’s Rethink Initiative offers a list of organizations that could put your old electronics to good use. Or, if you’d like to turn that old phone into a little bit of spending money, try putting your item up for auction. Sites like Ebay and Craigslist provide an easy-to-use service allowing individuals to resell these old items, or you can use services such as Gazelle, which will guide you through a few short questions and then offer to ship a box to you or email you a pre-paid shipping label.
 
Lastly, some companies will pay you to recycle your old electronics. Retailers such as Apple and BestBuy offer cash trade-in options and in-store credit in exchange for older items.
 
Bottom Line: There may still be some life left in your outdated gadgets, but be sure to take precautions to prepare your device before you find it a new home.

Streaming Video 101


Streaming video has come a long way since the famous (in some circles) Severe Tire Damage concert in 1993 (warning: the band is...  colorful). There are many (mostly very boring) books on the topic of streaming, but one of the biggest improvements in recent memory is the way in which video is buffered.

Suffering from Buffering

At its heart, video streaming often results in impatience, since you must download a video file to your computer while simultaneously watching it before that download has finished. To avoid stops and starts in the video, some portion of the file has to be downloaded before playback begins. That process is called buffering. The faster your Internet connection is, the less time it takes to buffer enough of the file to avoid jerkiness. Yes, that's a technical term. The more reliable your connection is, the smaller the buffer needs to be. When you view streaming video, even in your Web browser, you're using clever software which calls all the shots on buffering so you don't have to.

Movie Adaptation

So buffering works pretty well if the speed of your Internet connection is constant. But if you're watching a streaming video and your son starts Skype on his tablet to video chat with his girlfriend, you might end up with a paused video and a message to wait patiently. There has to be a better way, right? 
One solution to this problem is adaptive bitrate streaming or ABR.  There are several flavors of ABR out there but an open standard hasn't really emerged yet. The de facto standard, called HTTP Live Streaming or HLS, was designed by Apple.

With ABR, that big video file you want to watch is saved in multiple resolutions, each one suited to a specific connection speed. Then each of those files is broken down into smaller pieces, each a few seconds long, and stored on a server along with a file that describes where each of those small pieces can be found and how they can be assembled into the full video. When you watch a video using ABR (you probably already have without knowing it), your computer talks to that server and figures out how fast your Internet connection is at that moment. Then it requests the first small chunk of your video in the appropriate resolution (bonus: since it's a small file, your video starts up quicker!). Once it has that file, it analyzes how long it took to download it, re-thinks which resolution is appropriate and grabs the next few seconds of the video. Wash, rinse and repeat! You may see a drop in resolution as you're streaming that video, but it's much less likely to pause and jerk.

Where Can I Get This Amazing Technology?

You're probably already streaming (and buffering) video and using ABR without knowing it, but be sure to look for our next post where we'll compare and rate a number of online video streaming services.

Implications Of Online Sales Tax


Online retailers could soon be preparing for potential changes in the way they do business, most notably the expansion of sales tax to more online purchases.
 
The Marketplace Fairness Act was introduced earlier this year, and it would allow states to tax consumers for online sales. This could have big implications for businesses both online and offline. 
 
Online businesses like eBay.com are often able to undercut brick-and-mortar stores with much lower prices. If sales tax is in play, the total price will likely end up higher than consumers are used to. This could impact where consumers end up buying.
 
3 things will likely happen if the Marketplace Fairness Act becomes law:

  • Online prices will rise to compensate for the tax.
  • Consumers will be more likely to shop locally if prices are similar.
  • Tax revenue will increase in the states where online purchases are made.

 
The change is no surprise, as an expected $23.3 billion in sales tax was not collected last year on online purchases. However some companies are supportive of the bill. This excerpt from a letter to Congress written by Paul Misener, VP of Amazon explains why the company sees it as an advantage:
 
“I am writing to thank you for your bill, which will allow states with simplified rules to require sales tax collection by out-of-state sellers who choose to make sales to in-state buyers."

Currently, online sales tax is typically collected when the business has a physical presence in the same state as the buyer. The Marketplace Fairness Act would allow states to collect taxes for all online purchases, regardless of the business's location.

For more information, visit www.marketplacefairness.org

Servers Under Attack


Computer viruses, worms and hackers have threatened users since the beginning of the Internet.  Anti-virus programs and regular software updates used to be sufficient to protect a company's on-line interests. 
 
Unfortunately, as in any ecosystem, these threats evolve over time.  On today's Internet, a comprehensive security strategy which implements multiple layers of security and constant vigilance are necessary to protect your business and your customers.
 
Dave Sill checking on Socket's serversDave Sill, internal network operations manager here at Socket, offers the following tips to keep various aspects of your business network secure.  
 
Anti-Virus Programs and Policies
 
Desktop computing is the easy part of the security equation today.  Virus definitions and operating system updates need to be downloaded and applied regularly.  Firewall appliances can offer good protection if they're properly maintained, but too often they are "set and forget" systems. 
 
Good policies need to be set and enforced and employees need to be well trained to avoid social engineering and spear phishing attacks. If your employees are allowed to BYOD ("bring your own device"), provisions need to be made to ensure each device is secure and will protect proprietary information if lost or stolen.
 
Web and Email Servers
 
Many companies also manage their own web and email servers. Handling these functions internally can be appealing for a number of reasons, but it increases a company's assailable "surface area" and complicates security. 
 
As with desktops, software updates, anti-virus and strong passwords are critical when implementing a server.  Turning off unused services and restricting remote management access can mitigate risk and regularly reviewing server logs may help identify attacks.  Mail servers have to be properly configured to prevent spammers from using your resources and getting your system blacklisted.  "Off the shelf" web applications need to be updated and secured like any other piece of software and custom web applications need to be properly secured against SQL injection attacks and other threats.
 
Office Equipment

Office equipment offers a more complex challenge to the business Internet user.  How many electronic devices other than computers are connected to your network? 
 
Wireless access points, printers, conference phones and many other common devices are essentially special-purpose computers.  They run software which has to be updated and can be compromised just like a desktop or server. These devices tend to "just work." When they're ignored they can provide a back door into your office network and customer and employee data.

Everyone knows desktop security is important in an age where financial transactions and purchases are made online.  As a business owner, it's critical to understand and address threats not just to employee desktops but also to servers, cell phones, printers and every other device connected to your network. Computer criminals prey on those who don't update and harden their systems.  Being proactive with security saves time and money spent cleaning up after virus infections and data breaches.  More importantly, it shows your customers and employees you care about them and their private data.

25 Most Common Passwords... Are You Using One Of Them?


Is your password on this list? Then you might want to change it.

According to SplashData, an online security company, the easiest way for a hacker to break into an account is to simply try common passwords. So if your password is, well, “password,” you’ve made a hacker’s job very, very easy.

The following list is compiled from millions of passwords posted online by hackers, and is a fairly good estimate of some of the most commonly used passwords on the Web. If you’re using any of them, we recommend picking out a stronger one.

·  password
·  123456
·  12345678
·  qwerty
·  abc123
·  monkey
·  1234567
·  letmein
·  trustno1
·  dragon
·  baseball
·  111111
·  iloveyou
·  master
·  sunshine
·  ashley
·  bailey
·  passw0rd
·  shadow
·  123123
·  654321
·  superman
·  qazwsx
·  michael
·  football

What is Spoofing?


“Spoofing” refers to the act of imitating or masquerading as a trustworthy source. Spammers and scammers often use some form of this technique in order to gain personal information from unsuspecting victims. Here’s a few ways a scammer can implement this:

-Email Spoofing

By altering the “From” and “Reply-to” fields in an email, a spammer can make an email look like it’s from anyone. This is surprisingly easy to do, and yet many people assume that the “From” field is a true sign of legitimacy.

If a scammer can gain access to an address book, another tactic is to send the victim an email from what appears to be a friend. These can elicit less suspicion than, say, a poorly worded email that’s supposedly from the bank.

-Caller ID Spoofing

With the advent of VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol), there are now multiple programs that will allow a user to place a call purporting to be from any number they wish.  In other words, a scammer can call from a different country, but have your Caller ID display a local number or familiar name.

While this practice has been illegal since 2010, it’s hardly slowed down the growth of this type of deception, particularly amongst overseas offenders. Don’t assume that Caller ID is infallible; if you’re suspicious, ask for a number where you can call back. If it doesn’t match, it’s time to hang up.
 

Spoofing is just one of the many tools a hacker can use to try and access your personal info. Oftentimes, it’s coupled with a Phishing attempt as well. But a little caution and a healthy dose of skepticism can help protect you from even the most determined of identity thieves.

Don't Get Caught in a Phisher's Net!


Occasionally, we get reports from our users that they’ve received suspicious emails… from us!

These “official emails” usually notify recipients that their accounts have been suspended, and that they need to click a certain link to reinstate it. These messages are not from Socket! But by spoofing actual notifications we’ve sent in the past, spammers can make their traps look pretty convincing.
  
Therefore, it's important to be cautious when you receive emails that appear to be legitimate requests from reputable companies. “Phishers” can use fake emails to ask you for passwords, IDs, and other sensitive information, in the guise of a company you trust.
 
Here are some tips on identifying phishing emails:
 

  • Businesses should never ask you to submit personal information via email. If they do, forward the email to the business to verify its validity, or contact them via phone or in person.
  • Look for phishing characteristics. Phishing messages often contain spelling, grammatical or other errors. See examples of phishing emails or check a suspicious email online at www.phishtank.com.
  • Exercise caution when clicking links in an e-mail. Links can be masked to direct you to a different website than the one listed. Hold your mouse over the link and look at the bottom of your browser window to see if the links match. If not, it could be a scam. When in doubt, type links directly into your address bar to be sure you are visiting the intended website.
  • Use a spam filter and antivirus software to minimize phishing emails. A spam filter can block many phishing emails from entering your inbox. Utilize an antivirus program to protect against unwanted files that could rob you of personal information.

Take just a few minutes to learn about phishing and how to protect yourself. Your chances of falling victim to a costly scam will be greatly minimized.

My Identity's Stolen - Now What?


“Data breach”- something that only happens to other people, right? It may be more common than you think. Since 2005, over 563 millions records containing sensitive information have been compromised, and according to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, this number could be even higher.
 

If your personal info falls into the hands of thieves, there are still ways for you to protect yourself. Even some of our own techs have been victims of identity theft, and they've offered us a few tips.

 
If you suspect someone might be using your identity, the best first step is to obtain a free annual credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com and monitor it closely for unfamiliar activity, like a bank account you don’t remember opening. Don’t be fooled by sites that promise free reports in exchange for a subscription.
 

Next, request a free public records report from ChoicePoint (www.choicetrust.com). These are the same reports used by many businesses, non-profit organizations and government agencies to help them make decisions on hiring, insurance, housing and more. Scan this report for false addresses and other inaccuracies that might be related to fraudulent activity.
 

There are plenty of other easy, tangible steps to take in order to reduce the risk of identity theft. Use a mailbox that locks and switch from paper bills to electronic bills whenever possible. Shred confidential mail and credit card pitches using a crosscut paper shredder to deter potential dumpster-diving identity thieves. Never carry paper checks or a social security card because the cost of losing them is just too great.

 
Get educated. Web sites like www.identitytheft.org and www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsi/estidtheft/ have info on how to avoid being victimized, and what to do if it’s already happened. Gauge your personal safety risk, and find tips for lowering it, by taking the 10-question safety quiz at www.idsafety.net. If you believe that you are a victim of identity theft, contact www.idtheftcenter.org. Volunteers there can walk you through the process of restoring your identity.
 
Fixing the damage from identity theft can take a lot of time and stress. But with these tips, hopefully you'll never have to experience it yourself.
 
To continue reading about Identity Theft, read our blog: Don't Get Caught In A Phisher's Net!
 

Identity Theft and Human Error


There's a common stereotype associated with "the hacker" - rapid typing, green flashing text, dark rooms and secrecy.

In reality, someone looking to steal your identity, whether for profit or just for fun, can do it with a simple phone call and a quick Google search - no tech skills required.

Understanding how this can happen makes it easier to mitigate or outright prevent damage, should you be the target of a cyber attack.

An Example

In a recent high-profile case, Gizmodo, a popular tech blog, had its Twitter feed hacked and taken over by pranksters. Wired Magazine was able to easily replicate the hack, and details how it was done here. All it takes is a few lies to a customer service representative and a flawed password recovery system.

By looking at how this hacker was able to succeed, we can pinpoint two weak spots in account security - password recovery and linked accounts. Here are a few tips to keep you safe on both fronts:

Put effort into your security questions.

In this victim’s case, his password didn’t matter. What mattered was how to create a new one. In many cases, this can be startlingly easy, especially when the security questions can be easily researched. If you have a Facebook account, it’s probable that you’ve mentioned your pet’s first name, your hometown, or your favorite color, so it’s not a good idea to make these the answers to anything.

Activate Two-Step Authentication.

You might have this already activated with a bank account - in order to change any account information, you must provide an extra pin number, which is sent to your phone. That way, a hacker would need physical access to your cell in order to continue. While at times it may seem like a hassle, this is a crucial step in preventing unauthorized account changes. If you have a Gmail or other Google account, you can activate Two-Step Authentication here.

Use Multiple Email Addresses.

Another thing that made this hacker’s job easier was that most of the victim’s accounts were tied to the same email address. Whenever a password was reset or emailed, it went to the same account - one the hacker already had access to. Since he was quickly opening the emails and then deleting them, even if the victim had logged into his email, he might not have noticed anything happening.

Delete Confirmation Emails.

Don’t save old passwords or confirmation emails in your account. Anyone who gains access to your email will then know, with minimal effort, what other accounts they can immediately access.

Avoid Linking Accounts.

Don’t tie all your accounts together either. While it can be tempting to use your Facebook to log in to all your other social networks, it can be devastating if your Facebook is hacked - that will give the hacker instant access to everything else linked.

Disable “Autofill” Options.

If your log-in name and password automatically fill themselves in, how would that help to stop a laptop thief? Worse, if your credit card info saves itself, having your computer stolen could lead to your bank account being emptied, too.

Treat Every Account Like It’s Your Bank Account.

Just because an account seems unimportant doesn’t mean you should make it any less secure. Making an account easy to break into just gives a hacker a convenient place to get his foot in the door. Create a strong password, set up security questions, and don’t use the same ID and password combination for any two accounts.

The idea of identity theft can be intimidating, especially for those who don’t understand how it works. Just remember that it’s like any other theft. It’s not always possible to avoid risk, but a little common sense can prevent the worst.

To continue reading about Identity Theft, read this post: My Identity's Stolen - Now What?

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Who is Socket

Founded in 1994, Socket is a Missouri-based telephone and Internet service provider with the largest service area in the state.

Socket is a privately held company that provides families and businesses a choice for local and long-distance phone and Internet service. We combine the highest quality customer service with in-depth technical knowledge.

Our network serves more than 20,000 residents and businesses in more than 400 Missouri cities, and our customers enjoy simple billing and quick, friendly service.
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