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Empowering Others: Lessons Learned and Expert Help With Cybersecurity

Empowering Others: Lessons Learned and Expert Help With Cybersecurity

This is a story with you in mind. It has three main characters, rising action, a lot of conflict, irony, and a satisfying resolution. It could be likened to Rocky or David and Goliath—there is, after all, a behemoth at the center. Most importantly, it’s a cautionary tale we want to tell as simply as possible, because there’s too much at risk, not for us, but for you, if we don’t do it well.

Part I As Told by Linda M., Client of PC Assistants
It was a nightmare. In late August, my Facebook account was hacked. For two weeks I was held hostage. Unable to log in to my account, I watched as the hacker totally took over. Suddenly, my profile showed I had received a certificate from the CryptoCurrency Certification Consortium and was now a Certified Bitcoin Professional. Then my profile showed I had obtained a real estate license. Next, a friend contacted me asking if I really was living on a ranch in Texas (Wisconsin is my home). My picture began to show up on cloned accounts.

Every time I tried to gain access, I was told the account was not mine. I told friends to unfriend me. Ultimately, because of the hack, I was even forced to close an email account I had for 40 years. It was like seeing your life smashing around you. Desperate, I decided to call our computer consultant, Bill Hand, for help. 

Part II As Told by William Hand, PC Assistants President
Over a period of five days, Linda and I spent six and one-half hours trying to find a way to get her account back under her control. Linda and her husband have been clients of mine for 17 years and she had left a voice message for me stating that her Facebook (FB) profile had been hacked and she couldn’t log in.

We tried the usual, “I forgot my password,” step, but FB wanted to send a text verification to a phone number that wasn’t Linda’s. We tried requesting an email verification, but FB wanted to send it to an address that wasn’t Linda’s. Next, I attempted the following:

  • Conducted an extensive online search on regaining access to a FB account
  • Conducted an extensive search in online technical forums
  • Followed every step suggested in FB’s FAQ section
  • Searched for ways to speak with a human at FB

We hit a dead end every time.

At this point, it was apparent the mechanisms FB had in place to deal with problems like this were very limited. Initially, I thought that, if none of the automated methods to resolve Linda’s problem worked, then we would end up either in a Facebook support chat session or on a phone call with somebody at FB. There is no way to do that.

Finally, my wife suggested I contact fellow computer consultant Dave Rebro. I called him, he asked for a description of the problem, and he took it from there.

Part III As Told by Dave Rebro, DRCS Solutions, Technology Therapist, Trainer

Dave Rebro, Facebook Account Security and Privacy Audit Services

My heartstrings were tugged when I saw how upset Linda had become. You can imagine how it is when you’re violated and all your information is out there. Not only that, her credit card was attached to her account, as well.

I’ve helped people before in similar situations, but not to this level. Her hacking situation was so complex. There were a number of reasons for that, and I couldn’t leave Linda in her current state. Also, I don’t like to quit.

One factor adding to the difficulty was 4 or 5 new accounts had been cloned with her name and actual picture. We had to figure out which account was hers and which ones were the fakes. That was hard to do because the hackers had turned on privacy settings—no data was accessible.

Another factor making a solution hard to reach was Facebook itself. While it provides some steps to get back in, they’re not user friendly, can be confusing, and are very difficult to navigate. Nor is there a direct way to get in touch with Facebook; there’s no phone number to call; there’s no form to fill out.

[Note: According to IT Governance, the number of records breached so far in 2023 is 4.5 billion. Dave explained that most hacks are software driven; there’s not just a person behind a computer trying to break in to your computer. These software programs, referred to as bots (short for robots), search the internet for information obtained from previous breaches. That information is then sold on the black market, a/k/a the Dark Web. He further explained that the high-tech bots are automatically generating many more cyber attacks every day and the number keeps growing.]

Lastly, continual changes on the part of Facebook created challenges. Meaning that the steps to go through today are different than what FB had in place six months ago. So, I had to figure out what the new steps were and it’s not very intuitive.

I spent approximately 18 hours trying to recover Linda’s account. It was not a simple process:

  • To see where other people had successfully contacted Facebook, I had to do some real good research. Eventually, I had about ten different emails. Most of them were inactive, but I found a couple that were active, and I just kept sending to those addresses, “We’ve been hacked.”
  • Facebook would give us codes to type in, but the codes wouldn’t work. Every time I got stuck, I’d have to go back to the beginning and start the process all over. We were “caught in the loop,” which is how other people described it online.

This stretched out so long and there was a lot of frustration, not only on Linda’s part, but also on my part because I was going through a vicious cycle over and over again. It wasn’t our fault; we were following directions. But things weren’t working on Facebook’s end.

Eventually, with persistence, we caught a break. Since I had continued trying to reach FB through one of the contacts I had found, I finally got to the right person in the right department and they closed Linda’s account.

We fine-tuned Linda’s new account and went step by step through the privacy and security settings. We have it to the point where she has probably one of the most secure accounts I know of.

[Note: According to Dave, there are plenty of recommended security and privacy setups that Facebook provides, but you have to figure out what those are on your own. It’s not easy. Then, once you’re in, you could spend hours with all the different settings.]

Part IV As Told by Linda M.
I appreciate everything Dave did for me. I don’t know how he did it, but he got my life back, really. I’ve been telling family and friends about my experience and many have now put a second level of protection on their Facebook accounts.

With my new account, Dave went step by step on how to set it up with protections. He gave me all kinds of helpful information that I didn’t know—such as telling me to be careful about what I click on and what not to do if I want to buy something I see on Facebook.

To people who haven’t thought about protecting their Facebook account, I’d like to say, “Do not fool around. Hackers don’t care. They will take over everything you have and will ruin your life if you let them.”

Epilogue
Based on his experience working with Linda—and at her suggestion!—Dave now offers a one-hour Zoom session with clients to provide them a security and privacy audit on their Facebook accounts. It’s for small businesses, as well, not just for individual accounts. He’d like people to ask themselves, “What do I need to protect myself and my business if I want to participate in online services?”

Dave guides his clients through each section of security and privacy to make sure they’re tuned the way his clients want them. He’ll explain the benefits and the negatives, provide his recommendations, and let the clients make the ultimate decisions about their settings. His fee ranges between $100-$175 for the session.

Ultimately, Dave wants clients to have the comfort that comes with knowing they did as much as they could to protect themselves.

With the help of blockchain technology, Dave is hopeful that, in about five years, we will see a positive shift in online security. In the meantime, please take this story to heart. Don’t make the expensive mistake of assuming your accounts are secure. Avoid living Linda’s nightmare by taking all the precautions you can. We’ve provided you with the first and most important step…contact Dave Rebro.

Follow Dave on Facebook, X, (formerly Twitter) and on LinkedIn.

Circuit 1 & Circuit 2

Circuit 1 & Circuit 2

TWO CIRCUITS ON THE SAME MOTHERBOARD

(This blog post was originally published prior to Mel Culp’s passing in 2022. He remains one of my favorite clients. ~ Bill)

A client Bill speaks fondly of is life-long learner and ‘Tosa retiree Mel Culp. It’s probably because they’re kindred spirits. Here’s how Bill explains it…

One thing I’ve noticed working with Mel is that we’re on very similar wavelengths. That wasn’t completely obvious to me until I went downstairs to get something he needed from his desk. I’m looking at it and I’m thinking, “With a few changes, I could be at my desk.’ The layout is similar; he has much of the software I use or have used in the past. I felt like I was in my own workshop.”     ~Bill

How similar are they? You be the judge. You’re a PC Assistants client, perhaps for many years. How well do you know Bill? Can you tell from the brief bios below who is Bill and who is Mel? (By the way, they’re both secretly pleased to be thought of as “2 circuits on the same motherboard.”)

CIRCUIT 1

His life would be totally different without computers.

Raised in the “Little Chicago of the Midwest.” *

Accumulated over 6,000 paper documents (invoices, photos, manuals, etc.). Culled to 3,000 and scanned using PaperPort. Working towards a paperless home/office.

Built a website using Microsoft FrontPage 2003.

Words and phrases such as “computer management, work systems, analyses, operations” are integral to his professional lexicon.

Served in the Navy for 6.5 years (3 of those as a Service Warfare Officer) and in the Reserves for 19 years

Belongs to the Milwaukee Ukelele Club.

He likes these one-liners:

• “Better is the enemy of good enough.”
• “If you drop your lure enough times, you’ll pull something out.”
• “If cows could fly, they could get to the moon.” (His father said this frequently.)

 

Youngstown, OH (otherwise known as CrimeTown, USA) *

CIRCUIT 2

Started out in pre-med. Being introduced to a computer in a statistics class, however, changed the course of his life.

Born, raised and schooled in Chicago.

Plans to learn Evernote to become more “paperless.” (He definitely wants you to know this: designing the filing system so that you can find things 6-12 months later is important no matter the form, paper or electronic.)

Built a website using Microsoft FrontPage 2003.

What he considers some of his most exhilarating experiences involved designing and creating high-performing human systems.

Both his parents served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. While not in the military, he serves a municipality.

Loves Rock ‘N Roll. Aside from that, he adds, there’s a lot of mathematics involved in music and he’s a huge fan of math.

He likes these one-liners:

• “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
• “Do you want it fast or do you want it right?”
• “I learn more by listening than talking.”

Top photo — Bill Hand

Right photo — Mel Culp

Who’s Circuit 1 and Who’s Circuit 2?

Malicious Software

Malicious Software

There are viruses, there is spyware/adware/malware, and then there are cookies.  All are different in purpose.  In some cases, they pose a potential damage to your computer.

A virus intends to do damage to your computer; therefore, it poses the most serious threat.  That is why installing an anti-virus program on your computer is essential. 

Depending upon which of the thousands of malicious software has infected your system, it may want to do any of the following:
(1) Take information such as your contact list or browsing history and use that for some nefarious purpose.
(2) Redirect your browser to paid-per-click unintended, irrelevant, and/or offensive sites.
(3) Bombard you with paid-per-view popup.  While these do not pose a serious threat, they can be very debilitating.  Many times, their removal process exceeds the average user’s abilities.

 

 
 

 

Windows 11 — Should You Upgrade?

Windows 11 — Should You Upgrade?

Wait Hand Gesture Resized“Wait. Don’t install Windows 10 right now.” That’s what we’re telling clients of PC Assistants. By installing it now, you’re really agreeing to serve as guinea pigs. Microsoft will be depending upon you and other Windows 10 users to uncover the kinks and act as problem-solvers. Is that really how you want to spend your time?

Stay with Windows 7, which is a stable operating system. Windows 8 is still a work in progress (people either hate it or love it).

If you found this information helpful, please “like” our Facebook page.

Stay in touch with some of the best computer nerds in Milwaukee by joining our mailing list below. We update clients on new releases, current issues and problems in the IT world.

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OneDrive Backup Feature

OneDrive Backup Feature

Backing up your important files is a good idea…usually.

Most computer users are familiar with the concept of backing up their user data to the “Cloud” or an external disk drive. Both methods have unique advantages. For advocates of the “Cloud” approach, Apple has the iCloud, Google has their Google Drive, there are several unaffiliated services such as Carbonite and iDrive, and then there is Microsoft’s OneDrive.

On its surface, OneDrive seems to make sense, but the implementation is a bit confusing. Files backed up via OneDrive appear in the user’s Documents folder and also in the OneDrive Documents folder. So, where are the files actually stored?

To help answer that and other OneDrive questions, Leo Notenboom has an excellent article that describes OneDrive and how it works. The article also has a resounding warning: Do Not Use the OneDrive Backup feature!

He explains the warning in detail in his article. But here are two takeaways:

  1. If you activate the OneDrive Backup feature, it immediately begins backing up all of your files: Documents, Photos, Music, Videos and so on. You very likely will soon receive a notice that you must purchase additional storage space to accommodate all of your files. That may be a surprise because there was no mention about how much storage may be needed.
  2. The bigger surprise is if you decide you don’t want so much stored and want to turn off the Backup feature—you can’t. Well, you can, but you risk losing all of the files that have been stored in OneDrive. So, until Microsoft changes that dire consequence, using OneDrive Backup is a one-way street.
Meet Bill’s Tribe

Meet Bill’s Tribe

l. to r., Dr. John Krebs, Jim Tusing, Kathy T using

l. to r., Dr. John Krebs, Jim Tusing, Kathy Tusing

/trīb/

A group of people with a unifying purpose and a recognized leader, a devotion to helping the group, a common dialect and a set of unwritten rules.

An Illustrative Case Study: Key Characteristics and Values of Bill Hand’s Business Tribe

Abstract
Have fun and meet some Elm Grove Walnut Road neighbors — all clients of PC Assistants. Discover how this happy group of retired professionals exemplifies a “business tribe.” In the evidence provided, you’ll be amazed to find that this group’s computer experiences and appreciation for Bill sound very much like yours. Which must mean you’re part of the tribe, too!

Methodology
For this summer study conducted on a lovely backyard patio, three people in a sub-segment of Bill’s tribe were interviewed: Jim and Kathy Tusing and Dr. John Krebs. Others in this group are Mary — Dr. Krebs’ wife — Bill and Sue Graushar and Rich and Linda Terlau (much as they wanted to be a part of the study, they had prior obligations).

They’re all Bill’s clients and they’re all neighbors, living either on Walnut Road in Elm Grove or a block away.

Common Goal
Enjoy their computers with as little frustration as possible.

Collective Data


Jim and Kathy Tusing
Their exposure to computers was early and, apparently, their trepidation with technology is low. John Krebs calls them “gadget geeks.”

Jim retired as PPG’s Oak Creek Plant Manager where everything was computerized. Currently, Jim uses a desktop and one of the things he likes about technology is the speed of online banking. Kathy, a teacher, started using a computer for word processing. (She remembers students making Christmas wreaths out of Fortran cards.) Kathy now uses and enjoys an iPad, but adds, “I’m too old to be paperless.”

Kathy suggests that “social media” is a misnomer and that it keeps people “in touch but out of touch.”

And as much as they keep current with technology and consider themselves “on the train,” Kathy says that, at some point, they’ll just “stay in the station.” It’s hard keeping up with the speed of growing and changing technology.

Jim and Kathy don’t usually go to the online store to browse for apps. Instead, they generally learn about the latest and greatest thru word-of-mouth. They might also discover something through sources such as the Wall Street Journal.

John and Mary Krebs
Thru a friend of Kathy’s, the Tusings were referred to Bill Hand. They, in turn, did the same for John and Mary Krebs.

John, a dentist, was introduced to computers by his businessman from a professional management firm. Upon retiring, John got his first computer. He now has a desktop. John thinks the devices are great, but has little desire to do more on them than what he’s already doing. The tactile world is still very important to him.

When it comes to computer etiquette, John shared this anecdote: he and Mary have their kids and grandkids, when visiting, place their cell phones in the middle of the dinner table. No using them ‘til the meal is finished. He remembers years ago travelling by car with antsy, noisy kids. That’s much different than today when, for example, he takes his grandchildren back to school in Madison. With their mobile devices, he “doesn’t get one word out of them.”

A pet peeve of his usually occurs in the morning at his favorite coffee shop. While reading the paper and people watching, he observes individuals still chatting on their phone while the barista waits to take their orders. (This could make an interesting quantitative study — how many of our population also find such behavior irritating. Most, wouldn’t you say?)

Tribal Knowledge
BusinessDictionary.com states that tribal knowledge is a set of unwritten rules or information known by a group of individuals, but not common to others, that often contributes significantly to overall quality. All the study participants (unlike the general public) indicated they know exactly whom to call when computer problems arise — Bill Hand.

The best evidence of this comes from John. “I have a short fuse. When I have something that’s broken down, I’m not a happy person. With my computers, I just drop it [the problem] and call Bill. He is patient, coolheaded and you know his wheels are spinning.”

Whenever people ask for a computer consultant referral, Bill’s tribe will give them his name and phone number, thus providing opportunities to improve the computer experiences of others.

Common Dialect
Windows 10, Apple, passwords, printers, Carbonite, usernames — the participants showed extensive familiarity with these terms. While it could be assumed that “x!@#$%” is part of the lexicon of most computer owners’ jargon, no evidence of such language commonality could be detected in this group. Perhaps because they know they can always rely on Bill and there’s no need to get frustrated?

Tribe Leader
A leader has confidence, skill, a vision, and is adept in empowering the tribe and gaining its loyalty. In listening to this study’s participants, it’s clear that Bill Hand is their leader. Here is a sampling:

“We have no problems in trusting Bill.”
“He’s a neat guy. He even makes house calls at night.”
“One of the first times he came, he spent one hour on the computer and said, ‘I’m not going to charge you for that.’ Bill is very ethical.”

Observations and Conclusions
A core group of Bill Hand’s followers exhibit the characteristics of a business tribe: individuals are connected by a common interest and goal; have shared attributes; show a deep affiliation for their recognized leader; enjoy the company of other tribe members.

Beyond Results

I. While Bill Hand considers himself more of a “medicine man” than a “leader” for his tribe, he will review the evidence again and reconsider his own conclusion.

II. It has been suggested that the tribe be given a name. To suggest one, e-mail Bill. (For ideas, see: Name Your Tribe and Tribe Name Generator.)

Appendix 1:  John gives very high marks to the Apple Store at Mayfair Mall. “They are on top of things. There are no long waits. I’ve had a great experience with them. It’s a well-run organization.”

Appendix 2: Kathy and Jim very much enjoy reading the news aggregator theSkimm.com.