Are Smart Devices Spying on You?

Are smart devices spying on you?

What once was a crazy concept conjured up by conspiracy theorists, today, has become a real concern for many Americans. After years of dismissing reports and suspicions of smart devices spying us, manufacturers are finally admitting there may be some truth to the idea after all.

The Age of Robots

Science fiction writers have predicted a robotic revolution for many decades, but the reality of that revolution looks very different. The age of robots may be here, but it has taken the form of a personal assistant rather than a robot set out on a mission to conquer the world.

The Dark Side of the Robotic Revolution

While in-home and in-office robots may be convenient, there is a dark side to the robotic revolution.  As they improve our lives, devices like Alexa, Google Home and Siri pose a number of privacy risks and data vulnerabilities.  If you want to protect yourself and your data, you need to understand these vulnerabilities – and prevent these connected devices from becoming inadvertent spies.

With each new leap in technology comes a subset of unscrupulous people with their sights set on an angle to exploit it – more specifically the people who use it. The robotic revolution is definitely no exception. And unfortunately, many smart devices – (particularly household related), offer little protection in terms of security.

What is Considered a Smart Device?

Smart devices are everywhere, but there is still a great deal of confusion about what these devices are and what risks they pose to consumers.

One defining factor of smart devices is their ability to share data, connect to the internet and interact with other devices. A smart device could take the form of a smartphone, thermostat, refrigerator, door lock, speaker, light switch, or even coffee pot.

But when it comes to privacy concerns, thanks to a handful of viral news stories, Alexa and Google Home might immediately come to mind above all else.

Smart Devices in the News

  • One news story in particular centered on a family whose Alexa device not only recorded a private conversation, but sent the conversation to one of their smartphone contacts.The Alexa case is still being investigated, but Amazon claims that a series of unlikely events converged to create the scenario. Just how unlikely that scenario really is remains to be seen, but many Amazon fans are deeply skeptical of the company’s claims.
  • To add insult to injury, there have been a number of high profile cases where smart televisions were spying on their owners using built-in cameras to record what was happening in the room – and sending that information to third parties.
  • Even baby monitors have been implicated in smart device scandals, leaving new parents worried about their privacy – and the safety of their children.
  • Unfortunately, even seemingly innocent toys are not immune from the dangers of spying. Your child may have one of those CloudPets, but those plush toys are not as innocent as they look. These high-tech stuffed animals have proven to be very hackable, putting the security of their young owners in jeopardy.

The FBI Weighs In

Make no mistake, the federal government is well aware of the risk consumers’ face when it comes to smart devices. In fact, the Federal Bureau of Investigation recently weighed in on the security of router devices used to connect our homes. The FBI recently issued an urgent warning, urging everyone who owns a router to reboot the device.

A vulnerability was uncovered as part of the Russian spying scandal – one that left hundreds of thousands of routers vulnerable to attack by foreign agents. And while the FBI was able to take control of the compromised website, the agency urged consumers and businesses to reboot their devices in an attempt to isolate and defuse the vulnerability.

The dangers posed by smart devices are very real, and the bad guys use the data they steal in a number of different ways. From appropriating trade secrets to swiping passwords, hackers and other bad actors have used the vulnerability of smart devices in a number of nefarious ways.

In response to these vulnerabilities and the seemingly endless parade of news stories, governments around the world are taking action. In addition to the recent GDPR legislation in Europe, a number of individual countries are taking further steps to protect the privacy of their citizens. Germany is one such example. The country recently banned the sale of smart watches for children, and a number of the nations are predicted to follow suit.

Tips to Protect Your Privacy

So what can you do to protect your privacy while still enjoying the convenience these devices bring to your life?

The good news is that you can protect yourself and your data before your privacy is compromised.  From changing the settings on your Android or iOS smartphone and avoiding untested apps, to resetting the passwords on your internet-connected devices, there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself and your privacy.

Take a moment to follow these specific steps to prevent your smart TV, Google Home, Apple HomePod, and Amazon Echo from listening to your private conversations.

From smartphones to internet-enabled TVs, Alexa or Google Home devices – for many people, the convenience of these devices still outweighs the risk.

By being proactive and taking the necessary steps to secure your smart devices as best you can, you can minimize the risk of your privacy being violated and sit back, relax, and enjoy the amazing age of technology we live in.

How to Fix a Water Damaged Smartphone

June 21st, the official start of summer is just around the corner.

how to fix a water damaged smartphoneThat means sunshine, hot days, and lazy days at the beach or the pool…all of which provide a high risk environment for your smartphone.

Whether you drop your beloved smartphone in a lake or jump in the pool forgetting it’s in your pocket, you’re likely to experience a moment of panic once you realize your mistake.

When your smartphone suffers water damage, you might think that your options are limited to buying a new device or living without a smartphone – an unthinkable outcome in today’s “always on” world.

Fortunately, there are ways to fix your water damaged smartphone, so don’t have to revert to an analog life. While there are no guarantees of full recovery, it never hurts to give it a try.

The first thing to know, is that there are critical steps to take as soon as your smartphone hits the water. And while knowing what to do to salvage your water damaged smartphone is important, equally important is what not to do. These wrong steps could reduce your chances of successful recovery:

  • Don’t Panic: All is not lost, even if you fail to fix your water damaged smartphone. As long as your data is backed up to the cloud, you can recover your information even if your recovery efforts fail and you need to buy a new phone.
  • Don’t Turn It On: Resist the urge to power your water damaged phone back on. Doing so is likely to make the damage even worse.
  • Don’t Use This Method: You should also avoid artificial drying methods like hair dryers, and your microwave (yes, some people have attempted this). The heat from the hair dryer and rays from the microwave will damage the phone further, and that damage could interfere with your recovery efforts.

How To Fix Your Water Damaged iPhone

As soon as your iPhone hits the water, take these steps right away.

  1. Turn the phone off
  2. Dry the smartphone with a clean towel or cloth
  3. Remove the SIM card
  4. Place the phone on a flat surface and allow it to dry
  5. Turn the phone on and see if it powers on
  6. Fill a Ziploc bag with silica-based cat litter or drying gel and place your iPhone inside
  7. Leave the phone in the bag for 24 to 48 hours, then try to turn it on

How To Fix Your Water Damaged Android Phone

If your Android phone suffers water damage, the following steps can help you avoid shelling out cash for a brand new phone.

  1. Remove the Android phone from the water right away – every second counts
  2. Turn the phone off
  3. Remove the battery and SIM card
  4. Remove the micro SD card and set it aside
  5. Carefully wipe the SIM and micro SD cards with rubbing alcohol
  6. Use a cotton swab to place rubbing alcohol on the interior components
  7. Place all of the components in a Ziploc bag and fill the bag with rice
  8. Allow the components and the rice to sit for 24 to 48 hours
  9. Put the phone back together and try to power it on

Hopefully, these steps will allow you to salvage your water damaged iPhone or Android-based device.  If you’re lucky, the drying agents will remove not only the water, but any debris the water left behind. If that happens, your phone will power on normally, and you will enjoy the same great operation you did before your device went for a swim.

While it is important to hope for the best, there is always the possibility that your smartphone will not be restored by the drying steps outlined above.

If the worst happens, seek professional help to salvage any data you failed to back up before the unfortunate incident. To protect your phone from water damage in future, consider investing in a waterproof phone case or even a water resistant phone.

But a word of caution – just because a device or piece of equipment says it is water resistant, this doesn’t mean it’s foolproof. A phone’s resistance to water is often dependent on the water clarity, how deep it is submerged, and how long the device was submerged.

To be on the safe side, before you engage in summer activities, make sure all your data is backed up and consider investing in an insurance plan if you haven’t already so you’ve got your bases covered no matter what.

Most importantly, stay safe, have fun, and enjoy the beautiful Wisconsin weather this summer!

5 Ways to Stop Annoying RoboCalls

The formation of the Do Not Call registry has gone a long way toward stopping unwanted marketing messages, but even the best registry can only do so much.

How to stop robocallsAs traditional marketing calls have declined, so-called robocalls have exploded.

These automated messages have largely replaced telemarketing calls and many of them are actually scams posing as legitimate opportunities.

As Mother’s Day approaches, there has never been a better time to address this issue with your loved ones so they know what to watch out for.

Elderly people in particular are at increased risk of fraudulent rob call scams, so reducing the number of calls they receive is a step in the right direction.

Here are 5 simple ways to reduce the threat (and annoyance) of robocalls.

Tip #1 – Make Sure You (and Your Mom) Are on the Do Not Call Registry

While it may not help you prevent robocalls completely, adding your phone number to the Do Not Call registry is certainly a good start. Check your home phone number, your parents’ phone number, and your own cell number for inclusion, adding them if necessary.

Tip #2 – Block Unknown Callers on Your Home and Cell Phone

Robocallers routinely try to hide their identities and therefore, they often come through as unknown numbers. Blocking calls from unknown numbers is one way to reduce the number of calls from repeat robocall offenders. If you do receive a robocall from an unblocked number, be sure to note the phone number, block it manually on your phone and if they are especially persistent, report it to your phone company.

Tip #3 – Seek Out Robocall-Blocking Apps

On your smartphone, look for apps designed to block unwanted marketing messages and robocalls. There are many apps designed for this purpose, and plenty are free. Check out this review to find an app that works for you. You might need to test out a few different apps before you find one that works best for you.

Tip #4 – Use Your Voicemail

Robocalls aren’t picky about the numbers they target. Whether they’re calling your landline phone at home, your office phone at work or the smartphone in your pocket, if you don’t recognize a number, let it go to voicemail. If the message is important, the caller will leave a message.

Tip #5 – Threaten to Report Repeat Offenders

While the laws surrounding robocalls are still somewhat murky, there are some basic protections in place. Companies and individuals who persist in making robocalls, even when told to stop, are likely breaking the law.

Let them know you are onto their scam. Capture as much information as you can from each robocall, including the originating number and the company involved. Then report them to the local authorities and your telephone provider. No matter what, do not give out any personal information about yourself in any way.

Bonus Tip: Robocalls are rampant, and so are the scams they perpetrate. Watch out for the following scenarios, each initiated by a robocall.

  • Calls from your own number: Caller ID is the bane of the robocallers’ existence, but clever scam artists have found a way around it. Beware of calls that seem to come from your own number; they could be robocalls in disguise.
  • Athletic wear scams: The Hartford Chamber of Commerce recently posted on their Facebook page about a robocall that targeted the good nature of sports fans. This robocall has been soliciting Hartford-area businesses, asking them to become t-shirt sponsors at local sporting events. If you receive such a solicitation – just hang up.

Robocalls are everywhere, and chances are, they’re not going away any time soon. While politicians are looking for a way around the problem, scam artists are busy creating new ways to separate honest citizens from their money.

So this Mother’s Day, take a few moments to warn your mother, grandmother, and any other loved ones about the threat of robocalls and how to avoid them.

Cell Phones for Soldiers 2018

cell phones for soldiersWhen many people think of Earth Day, April 22nd, they typically think of planting a tree, cleaning up garbage in a park or putting emphasis on remembering to recycle everyday items.

This year, Ontech Systems is recognizing Earth Day by becoming an official drop site for Cell Phones For Soldiers.

If you have old devices that you aren’t sure what to do with, that sit in a drawer taking up space, we have a solution for you!

From now until April 30th Ontech will accept cell phones from any carrier, including broken and outdated devices.

The following items are also accepted; cell phone chargers, headphones/Bluetooth, cameras, portable electronics (games, GPS, CD Player, etc.), tablets and new phones cases and other accessories.

It is recommended to clear your device of any data.  When the organization receives the donation, they will wipe any remaining data.

Cell Phones For Soldiers is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to providing cost-free communication services and emergency funding to active-duty military members and veterans.

Donations of devices and/or funds allow Cell Phones For Soldiers to fund its two programs:

  • Minutes That Matter provides free calling cards to active-duty military members to connect with loved ones.
  • Helping Heroes Homes assists veterans with emergency funds to alleviate communication challenges as well as physical, emotional and assimilation hardships.

Devices donated to Cell Phones for Soldiers are re-purposed or recycled. A cell phone that is repairable is wiped of data and re-purposed to veterans and active military members. Re-purposed phones that are not reused for veterans and active military are sold. Cell phones that are either too old or completely broken are responsibly recycled down to parts that can be sold for remaining value.

Proceeds from both repurposed and recycled phones are used to provide international calling cards and domestic wireless minutes for veterans and active military members. Proceeds also provide emergency financial assistance to veterans.

You can donate by stopping in at Ontech Systems to drop off your donation in Ontech’s front vestibule or if you are one of our customers, you can send items back with your consultant from a maintenance visit.  In an effort to recycle and donate as much as possible, we encourage you to share this with your co-workers, family, and friends as well!

8 Ways to Recycle or Re-purpose Your Smartphone

recycle smartphone

With smartphone technology changing at a rapid pace, the need to upgrade your smartphone typically occurs every few years. If you want to enjoy the latest and greatest technology or take advantage of the best apps, a fast, reliable phone is a necessity.

Unfortunately, the need to upgrade has also created the dilemma of what to do with all those old and outdated smartphones. You don’t want to just throw them away, especially if they contain sensitive personal data.

So what can you do with your old mobile phones? Here are 8 ways to recycle or re-purpose them.

1) Recycle or Donate Your Smartphone

You may not need your old smartphone anymore, but there are others who may still find it useful. Here are three great local options:

In the Greater Milwaukee area, smartphone owners have a number of donation options, including the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative. This organization provides the services that homeless and at-risk veterans need to reach and maintain their highest level of independence. Learn more about MHVI

Another option is the national Cell Phones for Soldiers

For the month of April, Ontech Systems has registered to be an official drop-off site for old cell phones, chargers, tablets, laptops, headphones, cameras and more.

During the month of April, just stop by our office and drop off your devices in our main entrance vestibule.

Cell Phones For Soldiers is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to providing cost-free communication services and emergency funding to active-duty military members and veterans.

Donations of devices and/or funds allow Cell Phones For Soldiers to fund its two programs:

Minutes That Matter provides free calling cards to active-duty military members to connect with loved ones.

Helping Heroes Homes assists veterans with emergency funds to alleviate communication challenges as well as physical, emotional and assimilation hardships. Monetary donations can be made online or by mail.

Aurora Pharmacy also takes old smartphones for recycling. These donated smartphones, which can be dropped off at convenient collection boxes, will be reprogrammed to call 911 at the touch of a button, and then distributed to women in domestic violence shelters throughout the Milwaukee area.

2) Turn Your Smartphone into an MP3 Player

Modern smartphones are much more than just phones. In fact, some people use them for everything but calling. Even if your old smartphone is outdated and no longer useful, it can still be a powerful entertainment center.

You can easily turn your old smartphone into a portable MP3 player, one you can take with you on those morning jogs or you can use it to keep the kids entertained on long road trips. Just wipe the phone clean, download your favorite tunes from the cloud on your home wireless network, grab your headphones and you’re good to go!

3) Take Advantage of Buyback Programs

Your cell carrier may be willing to take back your old smartphone and even give you some cash or trade-in value. Most major carriers, and many smaller ones as well, offer some type of buyback program so you can still get some value from your old hardware.

Be sure to compare the buyback offers from your cell carrier to what you could get for the device on the open market. In some cases, the buyback offer will be superior, but not in every case.

4) Give Your Child a Camera

Kids love to take pictures and your old smartphone can still take great photos. Modern smartphone cameras are as good as, or better than, most older point and shoot cameras, so why not recycle the device and give it to your children?

The kids will have a great time taking pictures and they can hone their skills and practice taking care of it for when they get their own smartphones. Whether you print off your favorite shots or just store them locally, this is a great use for an old device that would otherwise simply collect dust in a drawer.

5) Use Your Smartphone as a TV Remote

Did you know you can use your old smartphone to operate your TV? It’s true – and with the right app, turning your smartphone into a remote is easier than you might think. After all, these powerful devices are actually tiny computers and they can interface perfectly with other electronics in your home.

6) Use Your Smartphone as a Baby Monitor

Have you considered repurposing your old smartphone as a baby monitor? This unique use for smartphones is gaining popularity with new parents and it’s easy to do with the right apps.

7) Turn Your Old Smartphone into a Toy

If you have kids, at some point, they’ve probably pestered you for a smartphone of their own. If your kids are still too young, you can repurpose your old hardware into a cool new toy.

Just wipe your smartphone clean to remove any personal data, then download an assortment of kid-friendly games and apps they can use on your home wireless network. (Be sure to install security apps to keep your kids safe). The kids will have a great time playing with their new toy and you will have given your old smartphone a great new life.

8) Sell Your Old Smartphone

Your old smartphone can still be useful, and lots of people will be willing to pay you for it. If you need a little cash to put toward a new phone, consider selling it outright.

You can list your old smartphone on Craigslist in Milwaukee, post it for sale on eBay or just place an ad on your Facebook feed. In the end, you’ll get a little extra cash and your smartphone will find a new home.

Security First

No matter which method you choose, be sure to wipe your old smartphone clean of any and all personal data. The protection of your personal and company data is paramount, and a thorough data cleanse of your smartphone should always be the first step.

If you need help cleansing your old smartphones of sensitive data, just give Ontech Systems a call at (262) 522-8560 or contact our sales department. We can help you donate your old smartphones safely, giving you one less thing to worry about.

10 Easy Keyboard Shortcuts that Will Save You Time and Effort

keyboard shortcuts

If you frequently use a computer for work, you’re probably already familiar with basic keyboard shortcuts like (Ctrl + S) which automatically saves a file on Windows computers. (Cmd + S for Apple users). It’s good practice to regularly save your work in the event you lose power or your computer suddenly crashes.

Maybe you’re also familiar with popular copy and paste shortcut. (If you’re not, this is sure to become your favorite tip!)

  • Windows: (Ctrl + C to copy and Ctrl + V to paste)
  • Apple: (Cmd + C to copy and Cmd + V to paste)

But what if you accidentally close a tab in your browser and you want to get it back? Don’t panic. There’s a shortcut for that.

Want to compare windows side by side? Yep – there’s a shortcut for that too!

Need to easily extract all the images from a Word document without copying and saving each one? There’s a handy trick for this also.

Whether you’re tech savvy or just “not a computer person”, a Windows or a Mac user, these 10 easy shortcuts will be sure to save you time next time you need to perform one of these common computer tasks.

  1. Restore a browser tab: Accidentally close your browser window? Windows users – just press (Ctrl + Shift + T) to bring back your most recently closed tab. Mac users press (Cmd + Shift + T).
  2. Window snapping: At some point in time, you’ve likely needed to display windows side by side on your computer. There’s a shortcut for Windows users – just press the (Windows Key + Arrow Keys) to make a window snap to either side of your monitor. If you use dual monitors, (Shift + Windows Key + Arrows) will make the window jump to the other monitor. (Windows + P) is the shortcut for quickly setting up a second display or projector. Macs don’t support window snapping out of the box, but a $0.99 app called Magnet can help you keep your workspace organized. Alternatively, Mission Control gives you a bird’s-eye view so you can switch between full-screen apps, desktop spaces, open windows and more.
  3. Easily extract images from Word: Have you ever attempted to save images from a Word file, but found the process cumbersome? Simply change the file name from .docx to .zip. When you open the zip file, you’ll find the images in their very own directory/folder!
  4. Select multiple files: From our last example, what if you wanted to quickly grab all those images and move them to another location? Instead of dragging files one by one, just press (Ctrl + A) to select all files (Cmd + A on Mac). Once they are all highlighted, just drag the files or folders to their new location.
  5. Lock your computer: If you’re in a public location or even at work, it’s best practice to lock your computer while you’re away. On a Windows computer, (Windows + L) will lock your PC and require a password to log in again (assuming you have set one up). On a Mac, press (Cmd + Option + Power) to log off. If you’re using the latest High Sierra macOS, a quicker option is through the shortcut (Cmd + Ctrl + Q).
  6. Take a screenshot: On a Windows computer, go to “Start” and then “Snipping Tool.” This tool provides you with the easiest way and the most options for taking a full or partial screenshot. Here’s how to take various types of screenshots on a Mac.
  7. Clear cache in seconds: At some point in time, you may have been asked by an IT or customer support representative to clear the cache in your browser. Browsers store a great deal of information and over time, this can create problems when logging into or accessing websites. For this reason, it’s a good idea to regularly clear the cache (browser history) and cookies in your browser. On Windows, you can quickly clear cache by pressing (Ctrl + Shift + R).This will also refresh your page. In Safari, the shortcut is (Ctrl + Alt + E).
  8. Quickly Undo Changes: On Windows, (Ctrl + Z) will undo any change. This shortcut can be used multiple times to undo multiple changes. (Ctrl + Y) will redo the undo. On Apple computers, use (Cmd + Z) to undo and (Cmd + Y) to redo a change.
  9. Quickly Find Text: This shortcut can be a lifesaver. On Windows, (Ctrl + F) opens the Find field, which allows you to type in the text you’re searching for and immediately find all references to it on a page or document. On Apple computers, use (Cmd + F) to find information on a web page or document.
  10. Find system information quickly: Have you ever been on the line with tech support and when asked for information about your computer, you draw a blank? Don’t waste time searching for the right location – use a shortcut! On a Windows computer, just press (Windows + Pause/Break) and the System Information panel will appear with all the information about your computer. On a Mac, you can open System Information directly by pressing (Option key > choose Apple menu > System Information.)

Whether you’re a computer novice or expert, we hope you’ve picked up one or two keyboard shortcuts you can start to use every day. If you use these shortcuts regularly, they’re sure to become second nature and save you a whole lot of time in the future!

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