Thursday, March 1, 2018

Tech for Travelers

Wondering what technology and gadgets to take on your next trip? You're not the only one. Long gone are the days where a Walkman and film camera were the height of travel tech. At the very least, you’re likely to need your PC/Mac and your smartphone.

Let’s take a look at some useful technology you will want with you the next time you travel...
Consider carrying a tablet computer instead of a laptop. Smaller, lighter, cheaper, and with better battery life than a laptop, tablets are more convenient for travelers. The most well-known examples are Apple’s iPad (mini or full-size) and the Microsoft Surface. While either of those lines will do just fine for a traveler, a good value for money now is in the Android O/S tablets. Good choices are a Google Pixel, Samsung Galaxy, Huawei MediaPad and the Amazon Fire lines of tablets.

The Android OS supports lots of productivity apps, as well as games. To stay connected to your home or office, the devices all have WiFi connectivity, and some include the ability to connect to a cellular network. Plus, they all have at least one camera with good resolutions. However, I still can't get used to people taking pictures with their tablets.

VPN Software
Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when you are connecting to an unsecured WiFi network in airports and hotels. A VPN routes your internet activity through a dedicated, encrypted server. When you have a VPN and you are online, you establish a secure connection to the VPN server, locking out anyone on the same network as you. All of your transferred data is encrypted between you and the VPN service provider.

Select a VPN service that has host servers in the USA. When traveling internationally, connect to a USA-based host server so you can access streaming and social media websites that you may not be able to access from within a foreign country. In addition, some streaming services (i.e. Netflix) offer different content overseas as compared to being within the USA. You can connect to a local host server for all other website access. I use NordVPN since it has over 3,300 servers in 60 countries, is priced well, and is well reviewed.

Smart Luggage
These suitcases and travel bags include built in technology for the traveler. Some include a rechargeable battery and USB ports so that you can keep your smartphone charged during a long trip. Of course, you will need to remember to recharge your luggage. The one caveat with using this technology is that some airlines do not allow travelers to check luggage with lithium-ion batteries. So, check with your carrier.

Some of this type of luggage have Bluetooth installed and allow you to track the bag via an installed smartphone app. Some have a built-in digital scale so that you know the bag's weight before you check it - saving you airline over-weight charges. Others have internal pockets made from material that block RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) signals, which can prevent some forms of identity theft.

Portable Device Chargers
Until there’s a real breakthrough in battery technology, a portable charger might be your best solution. A portable charger allows you to use your devices for longer periods of time without the fear of your battery dying. Typically, small in size, they give you additional power for when you are not able to recharge your device's battery during a long trip or daily commute.

Noise Cancelling Headphones
While there are several brands and models of these tech gadgets, the Bose QuietComfort line is among the most popular. In fact, I own a Bose QuietComfort 15, which is now considered an older model. The primary advantage of using noise cancelling headphones is that it almost entirely eliminates airplane & rail noise, as well as loud conversations. This will help you better enjoy your music and movies when traveling, and help you get some sleep.

Power Converter and/or Plug Adapters
Foreign countries often use different electric current and different plug configurations than in the USA. Most electronic devices can recognize and adapt to the local electric current. If you will travel with electronic devices that require current used in the USA (120 volts, 60 Hz), then you need a power converter. Even if your device can use the overseas electric current standard, you will likely need a plug adapter, so you can plug your device into the wall outlet. Click here for a list of plug sockets and currents by region and country.

Often, we're unsure of what we really need when traveling. However, choosing the right gear to travel with doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Making a few smart choices and limiting yourself to what you truly need will give you all the benefits that technology can bring while avoiding most of the downsides.

Click here to contact me regarding this or any other blog topic. Also, I welcome comments, which you can post below.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Difference Between Spoofing, Phishing and Spam

Cyber criminals and scammers are very creative, artistic and inventive individuals. They seem to find a way to trick computer users into falling to their traps.

For most of us, the terms Spoofing, Phishing and Spam seem to denote the same thing. However, they are different from each other. Knowing what to look for can help you stay safe from their effect.

Let’s take a look at their definitions....
Spoofing is the forgery of an e-mail header so that the message appears to have originated from someone other than the actual source. This is usually accomplished by changing the "from" e-mail address and/or sender's name of the message so that it appears to be from a known sender.

The spoofer (the attacker) hopes you have an account at that organization, which will complete the illusion. They know that if the recipient receives a spoofed email message that appears to be from a known source, it is likely to be opened and acted upon. Such emails request the recipient to reply to the message with valuable personal information such as an account number for verification. The spoofer then uses the information for identity theft purposes, such as accessing the victim's bank account, changing contact details, etc.

Phishing is when a scammer uses fraudulent emails or texts to send you to a replica of a real website to get you to enter valuable personal information into that website. The information they are looking to get from you are account numbers, social security numbers, or your login IDs and passwords. Scammers then use your information to steal your money, your identity or both.

An example of a phishing scam would be that the scammer sends you an email that looks like it's from a real company that you do business with, such as your internet provider, an online store or even a real bank. The message may inform you that your account is locked. Then it instructs you to press the included button or link for you to go to their replica version of a real website, where you are instructed to give your account information. If you follow the directions, you just gave up your personal information to the replica site.

The replica of the real website looks like the real website. They have the company logo, log on button, privacy information, etc. It's done that way to fool you.

One clue that the site may be a fake is that the website address (in the browser's address bar) won't look exactly right. For example, the most web pages for will include that in the addresses (e.g. A fake phishing site may:
  • Have a different top-level domain instead of having ".com" (e.g.
  • Try to fool you by putting the company name ahead of the domain name ( In this case, the domain is "fakecompany", not "amazon".
  • Spell the domain name a little differently ( This uses a number zero instead of the letter "o".
Spam is sending many copies of the same unsolicited message in an attempt to force the message on people who would not otherwise choose to receive it. Most spam is commercial advertising, and often for dubious products or services. Chain letters, political mailings and other forms of non-commercial mailings are also categorized as spam. Spam is used since it costs the sender very little to send. They make their money on a few people (within a high volume) accepting the offer.

The CANSPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing) Act of 2003 was signed into law setting national standards for the sending of commercial e-mail. It also requires the FTC to enforce the provisions under the law. However, many spamers send their messages from outside the United States, thus they ignore the law.

How to Stay Safe
  • Pay attention to the website’s web address. Malicious websites may look identical to a legitimate site, but the website address may use a variation in spelling or a different domain.
  • If you are unsure whether an email request is legitimate, try to verify it by contacting the company directly. Contact the company using information provided on your account statement, not information provided in an email. 
  • Check out the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) to learn about known phishing attacks and/or report phishing.
  • Don’t reveal personal or financial information in an email, and do not respond to email solicitations for this information. Don't follow links sent in email.
  • Keep a clean machine. Keep all software on internet-connected devices, including PCs, smartphones and tablets, up to date to reduce risk of infection from malware.
  • Install malware, anti-spam and virus protection software on all internet-connected devices.

Click here to contact me regarding this or any other blog topic. Also, I welcome comments, which you can post below.