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NCDS exciting blog highlighting the latest technologies that keep your business ahead in the growing caribbean corporate community.

Choose Your OS

Dean Nicholas - Wednesday, May 30, 2018

In this week’s column, we will take a look at the three mainly utilized Operating Systems (OS) used on Personal Computers (PCs). Which is best suited to your particular needs?


Windows OS

The Microsoft Windows family of Operating Systems are the most widely used operating systems in the market today. Every home, commercial building or facility uses some version of Windows.

There are several versions of Windows Operating Systems: DOS (Disk Operating System),Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8, just to name the more widely used ones. At present only Windows 7 and 8 are generally available. Note that we are only addressing here PC Operating Systems; Microsoft has a parallel range of Server Operating Systems which we will not address in this article.

The Windows OS can be practically used on any PC and can be obtained from any seller or even bought online. It is relatively inexpensive and easy to upgrade. In fact, it usually comes preloaded with your PC ‘at no additional cost’ i.e. bundled into its cost.

Basic technical support is widely available online. There is also a plethora of ‘how to’ books and texts available. Additionally, most or maybe even all high school or college courses in Computer Science expose students to the fundamentals of Windows.

Those of us old enough to remember DOS with its myriad commands and their respective syntax marvel at the tremendous advances made since the introduction of Windows 95 with its intuitiveness.

With Windows, you will need to buy an antivirus program to protect your computer, as the vast majority of computer viruses are designed to attack Windows operating systems. Another issue is that with Windows Vista and Windows 7, you will require a lot of computer memory, processor and disk space as compared to other Operating

System. As a general rule, each new version of Operating Systems requires more powerful processors than its predecessors.

Windows operating systems are best suited for general applications.


Linux OS

Linux is not actually a single Operating System but is a version of the Unix system. In fact, there are several flavors of Linux itself. Linux is usually free and easy to download, install, modify and update, once you become familiar with it. It can practically use on any PC. Linux Operating Systems generally require less powerful processors and less disk space to function.

The software is an Open Market or free OS, but can be tough to learn if you are used to using Windows. There are not nearly as many software programs written for Linux as for Windows and as a result, it can be difficult to achieve the same level of functionality using Linux as is available using Windows. However, most Linux-based software is Open Market, i.e., free to download and use, a significant consideration for those on a tight budget.

Linux is suited to highly technical/scientific applications which rely on custom programs (often written in Linux) and/or complex physical interfaces. Because of its low cost it is also chosen in low budget situations.


Macintosh OS

The Macintosh (or Mac) Operating Systems (named after the Macintosh apple) was developed by Apple for use on their computers, which are shipped with that operating system pre-installed. Like Windows, there have been many generations of the Mac OS. The current version is OS X.

The Mac OS was the first to introduce ‘point and click’ through the use of a mouse. Since that time Windows has been trying to capture the look and feel of the more intuitive Mac OS.

Despite the relatively higher cost of Apple Computers and the Mac OS ‘once you go MAC you don’t want to go back!’ The true Apple/Mac devotee will almost never switch to another OS. This is particularly true if the user’s primary application is in the field of audio or visual editing, where the Mac OS is much preferred to any other.

Mac OS is almost always the first choice of those involved in the Arts, whether they are deejays or graphic artists.

In conclusion, as in the case of any other kind of software the choice of an operating system depends on the user, the use to which the PC will be put and the available funds. Our advice is to consider all these factors and do thorough research before making your purchase.

Email Spam

Dean Nicholas - Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Why do I get so much SPAM?

Who hasn't heard about SPAM, and I don't mean the kind we purchase from the store, although that sounds kind of good right now.... anyway, we are talking about E-mail SPAM!!!!, you know, that annoying mail we have no interest in, otherwise known as junk mail or unsolicited bulk mail.

We have all been a victim of these pesky messages; but are we aware of the dangers surrounding such mail? In this week’s article we are going to discuss: what is SPAM, why we get so much of it, the dangers, and I’ll share some helpful tips on how to protect yourself from this well-known issue.

We all have encountered E-mail SPAM at one point or another, but what exactly is E-mail SPAM? Well a simple way to put it would be; any mail you did not ask for that is usually sent in bulk from senders you do not recognize, can be considered as SPAM, and there can be a lot of it. The bottom line is; E-mail SPAM can become a huge problem for anyone with a public E-mail account.

Fun fact, according to Business Week magazine:

“In a single day in May [2003], No. 1 Internet service provider AOL Time Warner (AOL) blocked 2 billion spam messages -- 88 per subscriber -- from hitting its customers' e-mail accounts. Microsoft (MSFT), which operates No. 2 Internet service provider MSN plus e-mail service Hotmail, says it blocks an average of 2.4 billion spams per day. According to research firm Radicati Group in Palo Alto, Calif., spam is expected to account for 45% of the 10.9 trillion messages sent around the world in 2003”.

Now that's a fun fact from 2003, can you imagine what the numbers are like today? With other popular webmail service providers like Google’s G-mail with an estimated 425 million subscribers and counting, the number of daily SPAM has just begun.

So WHY ALL THE SPAM?? Well, for one, it is very easy and inexpensive to create. Let me paint you a better picture: lets’ say you have some trading cards that you will like to sell for $10 each, you decide to get the word out by sending e-mails to a few of your closest contacts advertising the cards with the subject line, “Mint sports trading cards for ONLY $10 each!” Inside your E-mail there is a link for those interested to see the actual cards and their condition. As a result of your emails, a few of your friends reply and you make $70. Now you are thinking “wow! I made $70 and I didn’t have to spend any money to send those E-mails”. You begin to wonder how much more persons would be interested in the cards, so you add a few more E-mail addresses, even enlisting some from friends and family. By the time you are finished hitting “send”, you may have made a good profit selling all your cards. Now you find yourself running around the house wondering what else you can sell. See, because spam is so easy and inexpensive to send, anyone can easily become a spammer, sometimes without even noticing. Have you ever forwarded an E-mail that you received and found interesting? It may not be interesting to those you sent it to, and in this case, it is considered spam / junk mail.

By now you would have noticed that spam can be a form of marketing. Big corporations use it all the time to get their products and service out there, other spammers use it for more malicious purposes like phishing and to send malicious code to PC’s.

That’s where the danger comes in. Whatever the reason, there is one question asked by everyone: how did they get my E-mail address? Just as easy as it is for spam to be sent, so it is for a spammer to obtain valid E-mail addresses. Ever heard about web harvesting? Well, this is one example of collecting dozens of E-mail addresses very quickly. It is done using tools such as web crawlers or spiders that scour popular sites searching for any text with the “@” character. Another method is newsgroups, blogs and discussion boards, these places hold tons of user E-mail addresses and it can be a gold mine for spammers. Spammers will sometimes guess a user’s address, I mean they already know your domain, so all they have to do is take a wild guess, send a test message to whatever E-mail address they come up with and once there isn’t a bounce back, then the E-mail address must be valid. Malware, spammers sometimes use viruses, worms, etc. to extract E-mail addresses from users’ computers.

The good old unsubscribe link is another way for the spammers to get your E-mail address, I know you are probably saying “but they already sent me the mail, so it’s obvious they have my address”, well they may have it, but using the unsubscribe link confirms it’s legit and still being used. “Chain” emails also provide an excellent source of addresses for spammers. You may not know this, but E-mail addresses are a traded commodity. Spammers can easily purchase CD’s containing thousands of E-mail addresses and there is a possibility your account can be among them. The list goes on and sometimes it seems there is no escaping it.

So if I can’t escape it, how can I at least protect myself from it? Well, there is no easy way of doing this, not with spammers coming up with new ideas every day and even finding ways to trick spam filters, but there are a few tricks you can try yourself.


  • Personally, I like to maintain two E-mail accounts. A private account used only for personal correspondence, and a public account used for registering on public forums, chat rooms and pretty much anything that I need an E-mail address for, but not willing to use my personal account. Also, don’t link your private account to your public, this means, don’t register your private as the secondary to your public.

  • Since spammers tend to use combinations of names, word, etc. try making your personal address difficult to guess.


  • One of the most obvious ways to protect yourself is to never respond to spam mail, when you do this, you are just verifying that the account is actually valid.


  • Do not click on ‘unsubscribe’ links in E-mails from unknown sources, as I mentioned earlier, this is a known method for spammers to verify your address is valid and the volume of spam is likely to increase.


  • Make sure that you are using the latest web browser version and that any security patches have been applied.


  • Use an anti-spam solution and only open E-mail accounts with provider who provides spam filtering.


  • If your private address has been discovered by spammers, change it. This may seem inconvenient, but the last thing you want is for spammers to be phishing your personal information.


  • Avoid forwarding emails, especially “chain” mails. If you feel you must, take a minute to delete previous recipients’ addresses.


There are many other solutions you can try, I urge you to do research into this well-known issue, and get smart about it. Stay safe and happy E-mailing.

Viruses And Worms

Dean Nicholas - Wednesday, May 30, 2018

What are Viruses & Worms?

Do you ever wonder why your computer or smartphone freezes so often or moves slowly? Do you get frustrated when programs take long to load?

If these questions came into your mind, then consider that your computer or smartphone might possibly have a virus or worm.

What is a Virus?

A virus is a computer program that spreads from one computer to another, leaving infection as it travels. Once a computer has a virus it can do many nasty things like erase data, damage your hardware or software and interrupt your computer’s operating system, if left untreated.

Viruses are most often spread via emails. This can occur if someone forwards you an infected document or if you use a USB drive with an infection and connect it to your computer or smartphone.

What is a Worm?

A worm is like a virus but does not need any help from a person to spread. It is spread from computer to computer via networks. Worms are designed to exploit vulnerabilities in the operating system’s security and allow malicious users to control your computer. This is why it is very important to download and install operating system patches and upgrades.

Types of Viruses

The major types of viruses are Boot Sector Virus, Browser Hijacker, Direct Action Virus, File Infector Virus, Macro Virus, Multipartite Virus, Polymorphic Virus, Resident Virus and Web Scripting Virus.


  • Boot Sector
  • The term "boot sector" refers to the first sector on a computer hard drive. It holds the information that allows the computer to start up into the operating system.

    Boot sector viruses became popular because of the use of floppy disks to boot a computer. The widespread usage of the Internet and the death of the floppy have made other means of virus transmission more effective.


  • Browser Hijacker
  • This type of virus can spread itself in numerous ways, including voluntary download. They hijack certain browser functions, usually in the form of re-directing the user automatically to particular sites. If you find that your homepage is not the usual website then your browser has more than likely been hijacked.

    There are a lot of such viruses, and they usually have “search” included somewhere in their description. CoolWebSearch may be the most well-known example, but others are nearly as common. Stay away from sites that contain unreasonable amounts of pop-ups and use a browser that has good security built in to alleviate the chances of getting hijacked.


  • Direct Action Virus
  • This type of virus, unlike most, only affects a computer when the file containing the virus is opened. The virus action begins and then the virus essentially becomes dormant – it takes no other action unless an infected file is opened again. Usually this type is designed to automatically run multiple files in the background while the computer is running.

    The Vienna virus, which briefly threatened computers in 1988, is one such example of a direct action virus.


  • File Infector Virus
  • Perhaps the most common type of virus, the file infector, takes root in a single file and then begins its operation when the file is opened. The virus may replace parts of the file, take over the entire file or may not replace anything but instead re-write the file so that the virus is run rather than the program the user intended.


  • Macro Virus
  • A wide variety of programs, including productivity applications like Microsoft Excel, provide support for Macros (special actions programmed into the document using a specific programming language). Unfortunately, viruses can be easily hidden in these macros and can run unbeknown to a user.

    The most well-known macro virus is probably Melissa, a Word document supposedly containing the passwords to pornographic websites. The virus also exploited Word’s link to Microsoft Outlook in order to automatically email copies of itself.


  • Multipartite Virus
  • While some viruses are happy to spread via one method or deliver a single payload, Multipartite viruses want it all. A virus of this type may spread in multiple ways. An infected computer can be infected depending on the operating system installed or the existence of certain files.


  • Polymorphic Virus
  • Another jack-of-all-trades is the Polymorphic virus that actually mutates over time or after every time it is run. It changes the program code to deliver its payload. It can morph itself to combat virus protection methods. The goal of this trickery is an evasion since antivirus programs often find viruses by a specific program code.


Tips to Fight Viruses or Worms


  • Ensure that your operating system is always up-to-date. This is very important to users who are running a Microsoft Windows Operating System. Also ensure that you have anti-virus software installed on your computer or smartphone and download updates frequently to ensure that your software has the latest fixes for new viruses or worms. Your anti-virus program should have the capability of scanning emails and files that are downloaded from the internet. Disk scans should be done periodically to help prevent malicious programs from reaching your computer.


  • It is good to use a firewall on your computer or smartphone. This will help prevent unauthorized users from accessing it.


  • Stay abreast of the current virus news by checking sites like McAfee Labs Threat Center.


  • Avoid sites with popups, or at least, activate your browser’s popup blocker.


  • Finally, do not download unknown files or programs.


Securing Home Your WiFi

Dean Nicholas - Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Simple Ways to Secure Your Home WiFi Network

Nowadays, just about everyone who has home Internet sets up a WiFi network. That’s because gone are the days when a home had a single desktop computer that everyone shared; now Mother, Father, Sister, Brother and Grandma too each have a laptop and at least one smart phone and/or iPad, Kindle or video game, all of which require Internet connectivity. The only way to make the Internet available to all these devices is by way of a WiFi network.

Why Should I Bother to Secure My WiFi Network?

Perhaps the most obvious reason to secure your home WiFi network is to prevent your neighbor mooching off your Internet and thus gobbling up your expensive bandwidth capacity. With the limited Internet capacities offered by our local providers this can easily make the difference between enjoying a movie or video clip and, well, not.

As annoying as a mooching neighbor may be, however, an unsecured or ‘open’ WiFi network can lead to much more costly and/or embarrassing consequences.

First and foremost home is where we usually do our online shopping…except for those who waste their employer’s time doing it on the job…but that’s another topic. This means that our Credit Card information, name, billing and delivery addresses, in fact, all our financial and personal data is stored on our devices. Whether you realise it or not, this data is easily accessed by any other device on your home WiFi network,,,and without your knowledge. What ensues is varying degrees of what has become known as “identity theft’. Simply put, identity theft is where you work hard to earn an income, build savings and credit and a criminal saves you the bother by spending it all for you, usually in ways beyond your imagination!

Now don’t go thinking I’m accusing your friendly neighbor of being a criminal mastermind and a computer wizard. Most of the time the criminal acts take place entirely without his or her knowledge. All that is necessary is for your neighbor’s computer or smart phone to be infected with a ‘worm’ or other spyware and the dirty work is done completely without their knowledge.

Those of us who have yielded to the temptation of the higher download speeds offered by 4G Internet will be aware that that service does not offer unlimited data downloads. In this circumstance, sharing your WiFi can become an expensive proposition.

So How Do I Secure my Home WiFi Network?

There are many advanced and some costly software applications on the market designed to secure your WiFi network. A quick browse of www.download.com or www.cnet.com among numerous other sites will identify several and checking the reviews will soon help you to identify the one that best suits your needs and budget. We have found however that the simplest solutions are often the most effective and almost always the most economical.

There are two simple steps that we recommend for securing WiFi networks. Not only are they effective, but they actually cost nothing.


  1. Secure your WiFi network with a passphrase. You may choose a simple passphrase such as “WeAreTheWorld” or a complex passphrase such as “#We$Are%The99World!”. Whichever you chose, make sure it’s something you will remember and in any case, write it down in a safe and secret place. This is important since you will only need to enter the passphrase the first time each device connects to your network. Most importantly, having set up a passphrase, don’t then give it out to everyone in your neighborhood!


  2. 2. Hide your access point’s SSID. The SSID (Service Set Identification) is the name by which your WiFi access point identifies itself to wireless devices. Once the SSID and passphrase are entered into all your devices you should hide your access point’s SSID. This has the effect of making your WiFi network invisible to other devices. In this way your neighbors will not even know you have a WiFi network.


Just about all WiFi access points will have these two options available in their setup. All you need to do is look for them in your access point’s User Manual and follow the instructions carefully. By implementing these two simple steps you can economically and effectively protect your home network against most of the security threats it is likely to face. Of course you will need to maintain current antivirus agents on all your devices and also constantly update your Operating Systems, but these will be the subjects of another column.

Take Your Tablets

Dean Nicholas - Wednesday, May 30, 2018
tablets_PC

"Ten million strong, and growing" You always looked forward to chewy, sweet goodness of a Flintstone tablet but these days should you be taking the plunge for the tech version?

Tablet computing is easily becoming one of the most sought after technologies today. It allows users to do a multitude of things you would have done on a laptop and packed them into an even smaller, lighter and more portable solution. So what can you do with a tablet and should you get rid of the laptop you may already have?

The first successful iteration of the tablet was undoubtedly the Apple I-Pad in April, 2010. Although only three years ago and yet they are so prevalent it feels like they have been around for at least a decade.

What did Apple do right? Apple created more than just a portable screen you can touch, they created an experience. An experience so good and so easy to pick up and learn that the world went mad to have one. You could type documents, email co-workers and friends, play and create music and videos, browse the internet, download files and most importantly for some, play a host of innovative games. The I-Phone and Android phones were already on the market with touch screen technology and people had already begun to warm to using swipes and gestures to navigate their smart phones. The tablet was the next obvious step and it came in with a bang.

Here's a scenario that many of you may have encountered. You book a flight to New York perhaps and get to the airport with your laptop carry-on. You check in and head to the security area where you are asked to remove your laptop from its bag and place it in a separate container. You still have to remove shoes and belts and coats etc. Hassle. You get through security put the laptop back into the bag, put on your belt, shoes etc. and get on the flight. Midway through the journey you feel bored and want to watch a movie so you pull out the laptop and place it on the food tray, which is probably too small to hold the laptop, but you power up and start a movie none the less. Forty Five minutes in, the familiar BEEEEP! The battery has ten percent life remaining. You knew this was going to happen so you resign and place the device back in its bag and sit back for the rest of the journey. This is possibly all too familiar, but imagine that entire scenario minus the hassle at security, the cramped space in the airplane and the battery running out before you could enjoy the movie. This is what a good tablet can provide. The entertainment value and usually more than 8 hours of battery life (on a well made tablet) eliminate a plethora of problematic situations and gives you convenience, portability and usability all in one.

We have seen in the article Android vs Apple vs Blackberry that these companies are fighting for your dollar in the smart phone arena and in recent years they have been increasing their fight into the tablet sphere. Google's Android most notably has come the closest to matching Apple's I-Pad with features and Applications so the choice for many is not whether to buy a tablet, but when to buy a tablet.

As with any product there are three things to take into consideration before actually putting your money in the register. Reviews, reviews, reviews. And not just any reviews, the ones that users write about a product are most valuable. They have more than likely used it and experienced the features first hand therefore giving you valuable information towards making a purchase. On top of that, when it comes to tablets, here are three rules for buying a tablet as written by Eric Franklin of CNET.


  1. Know your needs
  2. There are plenty of important questions you should ask yourself before you plop down cash for a tablet, but the most important is, "What are you planning to use it for?" Are you looking to replace your PC or do you simply want a device to indulge your movies and TV show watching impulses while traveling? Either way, the specific needs you have for a tablet will factor heavily into your choice. Will you need constant Internet access? Is the ability to expand your storage capacity important to you? All important questions to ask.


  3. Price doesn't tell the whole story
  4. Just because a tablet is expensive doesn't mean you're getting a quality product worthy of your dollar. Conversely, not all cheap tablets are worthless throwaway devices with screens designed to induce glaucoma. There's usually a good reason behind the price of each tablet. By taking a loss up front, Amazon can offer its powerful Kindle Fire HD tablets at affordable prices. Also, despite the fact that the I-Pad has no special connection ports or storage expansion support, Apple's flagship can justify its $500 starting price thanks to its world-beating performance, incredible app support, refined interface, and robust ecosystem. Look beyond the price.


  5. The manufacturer matters
  6. Choose your tablet manufacturer wisely. Computers aren't perfect and tablets in particular can be even less perfect. If there are problems, you'll want to make sure you've chosen a vendor that will address issues with frequent and effective updates. Also, if you'd rather avoid headaches, you may want to choose a manufacturer whose tablets aren't known for requiring frequent and effective updates.If you're planning to buy an Android tablet, choose a vendor that has a reputation for updating to the latest version of Android on a timely basis. Asus and Motorola have good track records with this; Samsung, not so much.


Remember, reviews, reviews, reviews. Nothing beats a firsthand experience of a product so learn as much as you can and don't forget to take your tablets.

Browser Wars

Dean Nicholas - Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Internet browsers are among the most commonly used programs on any Personal Computer or smartphone. They provide a window into the World Wide Web; but with so many choices which one do you choose? Gone are the days when there were limited choices and today there are several options to choose from. Arguably though, the major contenders are Google’s Chrome, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Mozilla’s Firefox and Apple’s Safari.


If you purchase a Windows computer it will undoubtedly come with Internet Explorer pre-installed and if it is an Apple computer then your primary option is their Safari. But as stated above there are other choices to consider. Below we will take a look at the pros and cons of some of the most popular Internet Browsers available, to help make the choice easier.


Google Chrome

 

Google’s browser is supported on almost all computers and smart phones available. You name it; they have found a way to make it work.


Interface

With Chrome’s simple layout it is very easy to navigate to websites and view only the information you want. The tab feature also grants users the luxury of choosing to separate each website they browse while having only one window open. This gives the user more control when doing research that requires more than one page. With chrome’s search, address bar and page navigation buttons integrated, we find it to be more organize. Most people don’t venture into the settings of their Internet Browser, but if needed there is a simple menu button available at the top right. Users will immediately notice the simple approach to their browser experience and this provides excellent ease of use.


Customization

In an effort to make the browsing experience user friendly and comfortable, Chrome offers a customization feature in the Menu options that allows users to change the background of the browser as well as the colour and look of the navigation buttons. A simple feature but it can possibly make a user’s experience worthwhile.


Features

The tab feature, although available on many other browsers, is implemented in a different way with this browser. Each tab becomes its own computer process and prevents the entire browser from crashing even if one of the tabs becomes unresponsive. It is a distinct feature that can definitely be a deal breaker for some users. If you are a tab person, this can be a bit of a hindrance if you open a large number as each tab’s resources combined take up a significant amount of computer memory.


Security

With the world becoming more aware of security breaches, security should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Chrome is designed to keep you safer and more secure on the web with built-in malware and phishing protection, auto-updates to make sure you have all the latest security fixes, and more. For example, when you navigate to a website suspected of phishing or containing malware, the internet browser displays a warning which alerts the user to the threat and provides an option to decline access to said sites.

Overall Google Chrome is rated as the number one browser by toptenreviews and is a strong offering from Google.


Mozilla Firefox

 

Interface

Firefox's interface is in line with the trend started by Chrome where less equals more, less space taken up by the browser frame and controls and more space for Web pages. The page tabs have moved above the address bar, and as with Chrome there's just a single menu option in the form of the orange Firefox button at top left. You can re-enable the standard menus by hitting the Alt key. Firefox's new-tab page has tiles for most-accessed sites on the new-tab page, and includes lots of settings on its default home page. As in most other browsers like Chrome, you can customize what's on these thumbnails (tabs), and they shrink and enlarge as you resize the browser window, so you will never be limited to the amount of tabs that can be opened simultaneously. You can also remove sites and pin and unpin them to the new-tab page. But you can't specify which sites to include: They're chosen by frequency of your visits. Firefox is one of the last remaining browsers to still use separate address and search boxes, which is good for those who like to keep those two activities separate. That doesn't mean, however, that a search won't work in the address bar. There is also a tool pioneered by Firefox and copied by all other browsers, which drops down suggestions from your history and favorites whenever you start typing. Another tweak is that when one of its suggested sites is already open in a tab, you can click on a "Switch to tab" link, preventing you from opening more tabs unnecessarily; both tweaks are useful in my opinion.


Features

The Firefox web browser has managed to stand out from all its competitors with its integrated web search option. This allows for users to select their favorite search engine such as “google, bing or yahoo” to perform a search directly from the web interface.


Security

The internet has proven that it is a very essential tool in this technological era with that in mind, we have to be mindful that it has its advantages and disadvantages. The web is a wonderful place to search for products and services and to stay in touch with family and friends, the downside to this is if a user has an outdated browser a hacker can install unwanted harmful software, steal sensitive information and other malicious attacks. The Firefox team is committed to improving its browser on a constant basis in resolving known security threats and flaws reassuring users that the browser is safe to use. Firefox also has an added security feature that allows user’s passwords to be encrypted using a master password.

Are Debit & Credit Cards Safe to Use

Dean Nicholas - Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Everyone likes the ease of going to the store or shopping online without the hassle but do you ever wonder if your debit or credit card is safe and secure?

Here are some tips to ensure you are safe:

  • Always keep up-to-date


  • Always be updated with your debit and/or credit statements.  Make it your business to check your account(s) or statements on a weekly basic or when you have utilized your card. This you can easily do online.


  • Pin Number: Always protect your pin number.  Do not share your pin number with anyone.  Avoid writing it down and/or leaving it in your purse or wallet.  Keep your debit or credit card in a safe place.  Treat it like you would do if it was cash or a check.  If your card is replaced, destroy your old card.


  • Email: It is not safe to send your card details via email as email is easily hacked.


  • ATMs: Ensure you are aware of your surroundings and exercise caution when withdrawing funds. Be especially careful at ATM locations with multiple ATM machines.


  • Wireless: Don’t use public wireless access for financial transactions.  This puts your account/password at a high risk of fraud. 


  • Report problems immediately: If your wallet or purse goes missing or is stolen you would report it right away.  Do so as well with any unauthorized or suspicious transaction you observe so that it can be dealt with as quickly as possible.


Credit V.S. Debit Card

It is safer to use a credit card for online purchases.  Credit cards offer more security in case of identity theft and it is easier to solve a dispute, whereas if you use your debit card, you are at a high risk of having your account wiped out. This is not the case with a credit card.  In the case of your debit card you may or may not get back your money.  For this reason, always use your credit card over your debit card for online purchases.


Shop for secure websites

Check to ensure your favourite site is secure, to do so, check the URL.  A secure website has a URL that starts with https:// instead of http://.  The ‘s’ refers to ‘secure’ and offers strong online protection against data theft.  The site will also have a small lock icon in the lower right corner of the screen.  It is also important to look for sites that participate in a transaction verification system known as 3D Secure.  Depending on the card you use, it will appear as ‘verified by VISA’ or ‘MasterCard SecureCode’. 

Always remember to log off and close browser once you have finished shopping.


Store your data carefully

It is not safe to save your personal information and card details on websites even though it becomes easier to shop.  If there is ever a security breach, your information is vulnerable to be hacked.  Even though it may take some time to input all information every time you do a transaction, it is safer.  Remember; do not leave passwords on site available to others when using a shared computer.

Android vs Apple vs Blackberry

Dean Nicholas - Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The smartphone era has been here in the Caribbean for several years now and the boom began with the famous, or infamous depending on your view, Blackberry handsets. Curve, Pearl, Bold, Torch. These were the “in” words only a few years ago but, in an announcement on June 29, 2007 by the now late Steve Jobs, Apple’s IPhone with the IOS operating system (OS), smooth curves and revolutionary touch screen technology broke through the once thought impenetrable wall of Blackberry. Enter the smartphone wars. With Nokia, Motorola and even Samsung at the time reeling from users switching to the new phones on the block they all had to adapt to the ever-changing smartphone game. Blackberry has continued to be relatively strong locally and regionally but that trend may soon change.

On 20 May 2010, Google entered the smartphone fray with their now market leading Android OS. Apple had not quite met their match up until this point and within a few years Google’s Android cemented itself as a major smartphone player. As of September 12, 2012, there were 500 million Android activations worldwide and Android captured about 70 percent of the market. The companies embracing this new OS include Samsung, Asus, HTC, Sony, Toshiba and Amazon to name a few.

Lagging behind and realizing that the mobile technology world was passing them by, Microsoft introduced their competitor to the market, Windows Phone on November 8, 2010. They were embraced by Nokia who have now completely adopted the OS as their major hope for re-emergence into the market sphere but struggle to remain relevant.

Fast forward to 2013 and the once dominant Blackberry, recovering from a near corporate meltdown, release their competitor to the market. We are now in a full-fledged war between the front-runners Google’s Android, Apple’s IOS and Blackberry’s 10.

With the companies vying for our every cent, the choice of mobile device these days is nothing short of mind boggling. So which should you choose? Is it fast enough? Does it have enough storage space? Does it have a good camera? Is the experience smooth? And most importantly in my opinion, is the battery life good enough? All these questions never needed to be asked before but with new technology comes a plethora of new choices.

Google Android

The OS

Google does make physical phones but the Android OS is what drives their smartphone business. It is entirely “Open Source”. This basically means that anyone can make significant changes to their software as long as they have the right tools provided by Google. The app store has become one of the most robust offering applications to rival Apple and developers are constantly creating and innovating new ways for persons to interact with their device. One major drawback, with any open source software though, is that there is the risk of making the OS vulnerable if the developer does not do a professional job during his or her programming.


Screen Size

Most Android phones, until recently, haven’t exceeded the 4 inch screen size but this is an area where most companies who have adopted the OS have gone. Consumers have increasingly warmed up to a larger size phones these days and with the number of things you can do with smartphones more real estate allows for a more pleasant viewing experience. Android users will tell you that they have the “leg up” on IPhones largely due to this feature. Many people though, still enjoy the simplicity and ease to hold of the sub 4 inch phone.


Processor

Android phones boast Dual core and Quad core processors which are common terms these days and with new Nano Technology the speeds are only going to get faster.


Battery Life

Android phones suffer severely from a lack of good battery power. The powerful processors and large high resolution screens literally drain the life out of a phone with moderate use. On average you will have to recharge every 6 to 8 hours.


Other Features

Good camera quality and multi-tasking are so common with Android phones that they don’t need much mention. 5-8 mega pixels is the norm and if the regular man can differentiate 5 or 8 mega pixel photos then that person ought to purchase a photographer’s camera. Swiping and typing are major selling points as well. Being a touch device there is no physical keyboard and that may be something many Blackberry users could miss if they switch.


Cost

Unless you purchase an Android phone in the US with a particular phone carrier and on contract the price will easily exceed US$400. Here in the Caribbean we don’t have that luxury as yet but as they get more popular hopefully the market will allow for prices to be subsidized.

Apple IPhone (IOS)

The OS

Here we have the opposite of Open Source. Apple has sole control of their OS. What they release is what you get. Granted what you get is a well refined and extremely smooth experience. Although it’s not customizable, the innovation of gestures using two and three finger swipes as well as their vast app store make IPhones a big hit with the public. Simplicity and beauty has become the trademark of this OS and Apple does what Apple does best; Creative and functional design.


Screen Size

3.5 inch screens are where IPhones have been since their inception. This has been so to ensure an ergonomic design that users will have no problems using their device with one hand. Recently with the IPhone 5 they decided to increase the screen size but only to 4 inches.


Processor Speed

A New Dual Core A6 processor was introduced for the IPhone 5 and it improves the responsiveness of the experience.


Battery Life

Consumers can expect improved battery life from a current IPhone. A single charge should last 7-10 hours with moderate use. While this is a little more than Android, the battery life for iPhones leaves much to be desired.


Cost

IPhones are on the higher spectrum of the cost of mobile phones. Currently, an off contract iPhone can cost between US$750 and US$800. Once again with the increase in popularity these phones can hopefully be subsidized by a contract offer from local carriers.


Blackberry

Blackberry who up until recently had the lion’s share of the smartphone market regionally, has been losing much ground to Apple and Android. This, due to the vastly greater variety of apps available to users of their competitors. Blackberry handsets have also failed to keep up with the features and some say the durability of their competitors.

Blackberry released their Z10 and Q10 models in January. One thing that will continue to distinguish Blackberry is the physical keyboard which is present on the Q10 model but since the phone is recently released it will be some time before there is a concrete review available.

There is a new approach with the OS and the fact that Blackberry is doing their best to match up with Apple and Android means that Blackberry users should have something to satisfy their mobile palette as well.

So which smartphone will you be buying? The choices are unbelievable and will continue to flood into our market over the coming years and although the frontrunners continue to be the Samsung Galaxy and Apple’s IPhone, the Blackberry Z10 and Q10 being released ensure that the wars will continue.

A Road Warrior

Dean Nicholas - Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A Road Warrior’s Guide to Minimising Roaming Costs

Anyone who has travelled, whether on business or pleasure, is painfully aware of the impact of ‘roaming’ on your cellular bill. This can be a significant cost and even a deterrent to those of us who regularly travel in the quest for business outside of Anguilla.

The introduction by both our cellular providers of reduced roaming rates on both voice and data in many Caribbean markets is much appreciated. These reduced rates are, however, by no means universal; they certainly do not apply in our nearest neighbor island of St. Maarten/St. Martin. Of course St. Maarten presents the additional problem of having relatively poor cellular coverage.

The urinate solution to the dilemma of roaming charges among other things, is the implementation of a unified messaging system. Such a system usually provides email, voicemail, Instant Messaging, fax, land/cellular telephone lines and video conferencing via PCs/laptops, mobile devices, etc. An example of such a system would be achieved by an integrated implantation of Microsoft Lync, Microsoft Exchange and CISCO iPBX. Before I am accused of sales promotion let me hasten to emphasize this is merely one example and that the same result may be achieved through a combination of several similar products.

But you may well ask what such a system would deliver. The answer in a nutshell is it delivers your PBX Extension, email, Instant Messaging, Video Conferencing, etc., securely to your laptop or mobile device (iPAD, iPhone, Android phone) wherever in the world you happen to be once you have an Internet connection. This means, among many other things, that you would be able to make and receive telephone calls as if you were sitting at your desk in Anguilla, i.e., zero roaming!

"Sounds wonderful" you say, "but how much will it all cost?" There is a significant start-up cost, especially if you have to pay for the technical skills required to set up and maintain the system. Of course, NCDS already has the technical skills in-house and our rates are significantly lower than obtains elsewhere!

But what about the small businessman who really can’t afford such a system or just doesn’t have the number of employees to make it feasible? Well, here are a few hints of legal ways to reduce those roaming charges:


  • Install applications such as Skype and Vonage Mobile on your Smartphone. Not only do these applications offer usually lower prepaid calling rates, but more importantly, they offer free calling between mobile devices which have the applications installed. Additionally Vonage offers free calling to all North American numbers. Of course, all such applications require Internet service, hence my next tip.


  • Choose hotels, restaurants, etc. which offer free or low cost (under US$10/day) Wi-Fi Internet. Yes, free still exists, especially outside North America. You’d be surprised how many calls you can get made while enjoying a Big Mac, fries and a soda!


  • Practice scanning for free Wi-Fi using your mobile device. This is especially useful while enduring those long waits in airports. Even when a hot spot asks for a username or password, there’s no harm trying blank…sometimes it works!


  • Always disable voicemail on your mobile phone before travelling. Failure to do so could result in your incurring roaming charges to forward incoming calls back home to your provider’s voicemail system.


  • Block incoming calls from all but essential parties. Remember roaming charges are usually applied to incoming calls. I usually block ALL incoming calls, then review the call log and return any important calls.


  • Especially if you have an Android phone, don’t say to yourself I’ll just turn on my mobile Internet to send this one message.” The second you enable that mobile Internet, all queued messages will be sent/received…and data roaming is not cheap!


  • SMS messages, when roaming, are by no means free. It’s usually less expensive to use email or WhatsApp or even a short voice call.


We hope at least some of these suggestions will be useful in taking the shock out of your roaming charges.

The battle of the G networks

Dean Nicholas - Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Mobile networks have been advancing at a rapid pace throughout the last decade and the battle between mobile carriers has driven the development of  infrastructure to unimaginable data transfer speeds.

If you look at any advertisement produced by  providers in the United States you will constantly see the term 4G LTE. However in many parts of the world the technology is still under-developed where carriers still rely on the “primitive” 2G network.

Let’s take a closer at the differences between the generations of mobile networks; 2G, 3G, 4G and 4G LTE.


2G

2G which stands for Second Generation wireless technology brought cell phone technology into the digital age with the introduction of Short Message Service (SMS) and Multimedia Message Service (MMS). 2G technologies can be divided into Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA)-based and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA)-based. Out of these early technologies GPRS (General packet radio service) was evolved and later evolved into EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution).

The slower GPRS network provides commercial users with maximum data transfers of approximately 80-100 kilobits per second which can download a 5 megabyte mp3 song in just under 10 minutes. EDGE networks, however can deliver up to double the speed of GPRS at approximately 200 kilobits per second. A 5 megabyte mp3 song can be downloaded in just over 2 minutes at this speed. It is important to note, though, that once there are several thousand users using the network at the same time the speed gets dramatically reduced as the data gets shared across multiple devices.


3G

3G, short for third Generation, is the third generation of mobile telecommunications technology. 3G networks support services that provide an information transfer rate of at least 200 kilobits per second. However, many services advertised as 3G provide higher speed than the minimum technical requirements for a 3G service. These are the 3.5G and 3.75G networks.

Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) as well as CDMA2000 are the technical terms that we label 3G, and with the infrastructure in place it can be used in voice calls, video calls, mobile internet access and even mobile TV/Video streaming. The speeds provided by 3G networks are much faster than those offered by its 2G counterpart and it has become one of the most common network types available. The latest UMTS release is (Evolved High-Speed Packet Access) HSPA+, and it can provide peak data rates up to 56 megabits per second or 57,344 kilobits per second. When compared with 2G speeds, we can see the significant upgrade it data speeds.


4G

Although 3G may seem fast and efficient enough to get the day to day mobile task done, engineers wondered if they would be able to push the mobile wireless technology a step further, and offer speeds that would be mined blowing fast, even unthinkable to some. Well, the answer was most definitely; and in 2010 the ITU-R completed their assessment of six candidate submissions for the global 4G mobile wireless broadband technology, otherwise known as IMT-Advanced. By now it is obvious what these short form terms stand for, but what exactly is 4G, and how does it differ from 3G? Well, to get there, we will need to understand the two technologies that make up 4G; WirelessMan-Advance or WiMAX and LTE-Advance, as these are the two technologies qualified by the ITU-R as the true 4G. WiMax is a wireless communication standard designed to provide 30 to 40 megabit per second data rates, with the 2011 update providing up to 1 Gbit/s for fixed stations. Created by the WiMAX forum, WiMAX as a standards based technology enabled the delivery of last mile wireless broadband access as an alternative to cable and DSL. LTE Advance on the other hand is also a mobile communication standard, formally submitted as a candidate 4G system to R in late 2009, was approved into ITU, International Telecommunications Union, IMT-Advanced and was finalized by 3GPP in March 2011. It is standardized by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) as a major enhancement of the Long Term Evolution (LTE) standard. However, there are so many variations of 4G that one is left asking, which one is real? Honestly, they all are. After the ITU-R qualified WirelessMan-Advance and LTE-Advance as the true 4G in 2010, they later backed down when carriers ignored their standards. 4G now consist of HSPA+ 21/42, WiMAX, and LTE (although some consider LTE the only true 4G). There is one thing that can be certain, each new Generation will offer faster internet speeds than its predecessor.

Which one is for you? Well, personally I recommend considering two things. First consider your current mobile device, and whether it’s worth upgrading to the latest and greatest. Secondly, consider your data usage, but be very careful with those data limits, it’s very easy to run them up while you are having fun. If you have a 3G phone and you’ve been frustrated with clogged-up network, 4G may be the solution. You’ll be switching to a less-trafficked network for your internet data. 4G probably won’t solve your dropped calls, though, as all calls will be made over 3G networks until carriers switch to voice-over-LTE during the next few years.

4G coverage is only going to get better with time, so why not future proof yourself before the hardware gets too expensive. It’s time for a new Generation!


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