Is your GMail account one of the 5 million compromised?

This past week, we found out that there was a list of about 5 Million GMail accounts and passwords released by a hacker group.

The good news is that it probably was NOT a hack of Google.  You can check if your GMail account was one of them here:

If your account has been compromised, a couple things you can do are:

1 – Change your password right away!

2 – Enable 2-factor authentication!



‘Resetting’ your old Smartphone fails to truly erase your personal data

In a study by security software vendor Avast, they purchased 20 Android smartphones from eBay and were able to recover from the phone – 40,000 photos – including 250 nude selfies, along with 750 emails and text messages, 250 contacts, identities of 4 previous phone owners and one completed loan application.

Users THOUGHT they were doing a ‘clean’ wipe and factory re-install on their phones.  It turns out though that after doing this wipe and re-install, your private data can often be quickly retrieved using generic, publicly available software.

With all of the personal data we store on our smartphones, here’s a safer way to erase your smartphone when you’re ready to move on to a new one.

1 – BACKUP YOUR DATA – Copy your photos off your phone, etc.  Don’t count on getting your data back after doing these steps, so make sure you get all the data off you need before doing this!

2 – ENCRYPT – Go to Settings, click on Security and select Encrypt phone.  Turn on encryption to scramble the data on your device.  Even if the wipe doesn’t delete the data, you’ll need the special decryption key to access it.

3 – FACTORY RESET – Do the Factory Reset in the Settings, Backup & Reset Menu.  Again, this will erase everything.  Make note though that most factory reset will NOT affect the data on your removable SD memory card.

4 – LOAD DUMMY DATA – Take lots of pictures (nothing personal please), make up a few fake contacts, etc.  The more, the better.

5 – FACTORY RESET AGAIN – If the data recovery programs are run on your phone now, the first data that will pop up will be the dummy data we just made up.

If you’re still concerned about your data after this and you don’t have anyone you want to give/sell your phone to, the next step would be to physically take a hammer to your phone or toss it into the Chesapeake (salt water + electronics = no worries about your data getting stolen)!

Don’t forget that your old PC can suffer the same fate!  If you just ‘delete’ your old data, it can be relatively recovered.

As always, if we can help you secure your data or securely erase your old computer, give us a call at Discount Computer Service, 410-358-7300.

Great, Free alternative to Microsoft Outlook

One of the reasons many users have stuck with the Microsoft Office Suite instead of using one of the free Office alternatives has been because there has not been any/many good alternatives to Microsoft’s email client, Outlook.  Now, there’s a new version of a full-featured email client called eM Client version 6.  Like Outlook, it not only gives you access to your email, but also Calendar and Contacts.  It supports major email servers like GMail, Exchange, iCloud, etc.  Like many Office alternatives, this one is very similar in features, capabilities and look to Microsoft’s Office products and is FREE (for personal use with up to 2 email accounts).

eM Client supports Windows XP, 7 & 8 and even has Touch support if you have a touch screen.  If you currently use Outlook or another email client, it has an import function to import your data from the old software.

You can download the software at:

Run Android & Apps on your PC!

There are a TON of great apps that are made for your Smartphone.  Like any other program though, apps can only be run on the operating system they were made for.  So you cannot run Windows applications on a Mac, for example, and you cannot run Android apps on a Windows PC.  But what if you have an app that was made for a smartphone, but you would rather use it on your computer (with full physical keyboard access, unlike on most smartphones)?  Maybe you want to try out a new version of Android or develop and test an app yourself.  There is a way to do this. It works on most newer PCs and is 100% free and 100% legitimate (no pirating software).  The answer is to create a ‘virtual’ machine on your PC that runs the Android operating system.  Launched right from within Windows, you run your choice of Google’s Android operating systems and then you can use your favorite smartphone apps right on your PC.  Here’s a great article that gives you more information, download links and step-by-step instructions.

How to run Google’s Android OS on a Windows PC

Send large files that are too big to email

Most email services limit the size of files you can attach to your emails.  Typical limits are from 5 to 25 mb (megabytes).  So what do you do if you have a file to send that’s larger?  Here’s a great new service that lets you send large files to others.  They’ll allow you to send files up to 1GB (that’s 1000 megabytes) for free.  What’s better is that you don’t even need to register or setup an account.  You just drag and drop your large file, enter the ‘from’ and ‘to’ email addresses and you’re done.  Here’s the link:

Files to Friends

Tech Habits you should adopt

UPDATED Security Software

If your antivirus software is not updated (you should have the latest version of the software and the latest virus definitions), it does NOT offer basically any protection.  If you don’t want to pay for one, there are many free choices that offer good protection.  If you have an old, outdated one installed, you must uninstall it first, before installing a new one.


If you have any important data on your computer (pictures, music, documents…), you should be backing up the data to either an external hard drive or an online backup service – or both!  Consider an ‘Image’ backup if you have a lot of programs/configuration on your computer.  If your hard drive dies, an image backup lets you restore EVERYTHING on your computer (Windows, programs, data, configuration…), getting you back up and running quick.  If it’s not scheduled or automatically running, you’re probably not backing up your computer regularly – so schedule that backup to run automatically.  Hard drives FAIL and data recovery can cost thousands.  Do it before it’s too late.

RE-USING Passwords is a BAD idea

A bad guy only has to guess/steal one password to compromise your entire online world if you use the same password on many websites.  Use a password manager, or create ‘password buckets’ (one password for your financial accounts, one password for your music sites, one password for your shopping sites, etc.) to help keep your passwords organized, but have enough to avoid letting criminals gain access to all of your web accounts.  Keep a unique email password to avoid the password loophole.  If someone has access to your email account – all they have to do to get access to your online banking account or pretty much anywhere else is go there and click the ‘Forgot password’ link and it emails them a link to reset your password and gain access.

SECURE Your WiFi network

If you don’t have to enter a password to join your home WiFi network, you are leaving it open for criminals to connect and cause havoc.  The spammers don’t use their own networks to send spam – they don’t want to get caught – they look for unsecure networks to perform their mischief.  It’s not difficult to setup WiFi security.  WPA2 is best.  Also – be very careful about connecting to WiFi in public areas.  Bad guys can setup their own ‘Free WiFi’ networks and unsuspecting people connect to them and all of your data is being viewed (email passwords, etc).  I almost never connect to any unknown networks, and if I need to, I’ll use VPN software to secure my transmissions.

DON’T TRASH your old tech

There are criminals that ‘dumpster dive’ – looking for your old electronics. Many of us have saved (or your computers have saved) important information on your computer – passwords, contacts, copies of your old tax returns…  When you are ready to toss your old computers, smartphone and electronics, make sure to securely wipe its data.

Keep your software UPDATED

Any software that ‘touches’ the web – keep it updated.  Windows, Adobe Flash, Java, Web Browsers, etc. – say ‘YES’ to updates.  Turn ON automatic updates.  The manufacturers find security ‘holes’ and patch them.  You want those patches right away.

DON’T CLICK that link

Avoid, at all costs, clicking links in emails!  If you get an email from someone (even someone you know!) or even an email that looks like it came from a real company that says you need to click this link – don’t do it.  Especially if it says that there is a problem and you need to click a link and update software or enter any information such as passwords, etc.  – it’s a scam – don’t do it.  If you think it might be real, delete the email, open a browser and type in the website address yourself.

If you need help creating some new GOOD Tech Habits, the technicians at Discount Computer Service can help you get off to a great start.  410-358-7300.

What to do with your Windows XP machine once you buy a new one.

So you’ve been putting off upgrading your beloved Windows XP computer for a long time now.  But with support ending for Windows XP, it’s time to upgrade.  But…your old machine still runs fine, so it’s a shame to just toss it away.  Here are a couple ideas for what you can do with that old machine to keep it alive and useful:

Give it a Linux makeover

For a long time, I have made the suggestion that you could, and maybe should, have a separate ‘secure’ machine for sensitive transacting on the web.  Why not use your old machine for this useful purpose?  After you’ve transferred all of your data off of the old machine, you can download one of the free versions of the Linux operating system.  Ubuntu ( and Linux Mint ( are my two favorites.  They are relatively VERY secure and don’t be afraid – they are not difficult to use.  I hate to say you don’t have to worry about viruses (there is malicious software for basically all operating systems), but you basically don’t have to worry much about getting a virus infection when running Linux – especially when using it for limited purposes (banking, etc).  You can even download a “Live CD” and run the operating system from a CD and not even have to install it on your hard drive.


If you have multiple users and storage needs in your household/network, FreeNAS ( will turn your old PC into a “Network Attached Storage” device.  It will allow you to use your old PC as a file sharing device or even as a central location to store backups of all of your computers.  It’s powerful, free and you can access your files from multiple operating systems including Windows, Mac OS X and Linux with little or no configuration.

Recover lots of Hard Drive space by deleting old Windows Update files

Microsoft recently released an update for Windows 7 SP1 that allows us to remove old Windows Update files that we no longer need or want.  Windows routinely saves a lot of files that will allow us to uninstall some of the Windows updates.  But, except in the rare case that you find a problem that was caused by one of the Updates, it is very rare that you would have a reason to remove the Update(s).

This update is actually a plug-in for the Disk Cleanup utility already installed on your computer (Start -All Programs – Accessories – System Tools – Disk Cleanup).  Run it and you could get back may Gigabytes of space on your hard drive.

For the download link, if it’s not already installed on your computer by the normal Windows Update process, or for more information, click the link below:

If you are really running low on hard drive space (did you know that a full or almost full hard drive can cause significant speed decreases and possibly errors with Windows?), you could have one of our technicians at Discount Computer Service CLONE (make an exact copy) your drive to a new, faster, bigger one.  You’d get more space, speed and keep all of your programs and data!

For an often HUGE speed increase, ask us about cloning your drive to a new SOLID STATE Hard drive!