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A Cautionary Tale, or, Yes Your Mac is at Risk

Over the years many of us in the Macintosh community have gotten a bit complacent. The threats to our system, documents, our computing world have been rare. But I was reminded this week that the incidences might be rare, but they do exist, more so now than ever, and when/if they strike it can be most unpleasant. When we had one of our clients reach out to us this past week asking about a window they couldn’t close, I thought that it might be a good time for a reminder.

This is one of the more common ways to get caught up in some problems that aren’t easily resolved. Below you’ll see a screen shot from the computer of the user who contacted us this week:

Exit Error

One of the problems is that we have become complacent about clicking in windows that pop up. They have become almost part of the landscape, you know they are there, but you rarely pay a lot of attention, you just click. This one got noticed because the default click, “Stay On Page”, won’t close the window and make it go away. When the window wouldn’t close, the user took a closer look and realized there was more wrong than not being able to close the window. Not being able to get out of the window, plus the weird text saying that her Windows (she was in full on Mac mode) is blocked due to suspicious activity (she was trying to open Mapquest) was a bit of a clue that this was out of the ordinary. Thankfully, that’s when we got the call.

So a couple of pointers are in order. First, if you do not have a way to close a window (some of them don’t even have the “Leave Page” option) or a way to exit a program, then you really have two easy choices. One is to call the person who takes care of your IT issues and the other is to simply Force Quit the program (which is another good reason for frequent saves of your work.). The Force Quit function does exactly what the name implies; it forces the program with the funky windows to quit no matter what without having to click on any suspicious buttons. You can get to the force quit command by clicking on the Apple menu in the top left of your screen and selecting the “Force Quit” option. You’ll then get a small window that lists all of the programs currently running on your computer. All you need to do then is to highlight the problematic program (usually a web browser) and click on the Force Quit button on the bottom right of the window. And that’s all you need to do.

In case you’re wondering what would have happened had they not called us but instead had gone ahead and made the phone call requested in the window, here are some likely scenarios.

First, it is almost a guarantee that the person on the other end will need to install some software so they can work on your computer remotely. This gives them permanent access to your machine any time they choose to log on and it won’t notify you of their visit. They usually will then proceed to run some diagnostics (no one has yet been able to tell me exactly what is done), but generally that is done to distract you from the software install. In addition, for this “work” they perform, they will charge you $300, give or take. In the end, the only thing that really happened is you paid them to put software on your computer that gives them complete access. Not good any way you look at it.

In addition to the remote fix ruse, sometimes it will be a requirement that you download a program like MacKeeper or MacCleaner or some such. Those are less invasive in terms of risk, but they are a royal pain in the rear because they reset a lot of your browser settings to direct you to places where your visits equal ad revenue for them. 

But the worst are the ransom ware invasions. In some cases, clicking on these buttons will completely lock up your data through encryption that cannot be unlocked (no way, no how) until you call them up and pay them a ransom of at least $500 to get an unlock key. Even worse is they usually put a deadline on it that will erase your drive if you don’t pay within the time limit. And they mean it.

So the short version of all this is simple. If you see something that you are not totally and completely sure that it is absolutely safe to click on, DON’T CLICK ON IT. Call someone who can help you. If you’re working with a consultant they can usually take care of things almost instantly and before it causes any permanent damage. The same holds true for your internal IT department.

The web can be a risky place, even if you’re going only to places that you have always visited, so remember, be careful out there.

-Jim Vestal

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Explaining Elections, or Wandering on the Web

A few days ago I was enjoying a typical visit to YouTube. You know what I mean; someone sends you a link to a video and then over on the right you see a list of about 4 more you want to see, each of which leads to another four or five, and so on. Pretty soon, that little quick visit you took has turned into an hour of watching videos. As I was digging through the video suggestions, I was reminded of another page that I visit regularly that has kind of the same “click through” impulse that pervades YouTube.

It’s called the Scout Report. It’s updated every Friday from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. And what a great resource it is, not to mention fun. Sadly, a lot of the value of the web has been overshadowed in recent years by the strictly social. The social aspects have a great value for sure, but there is so much more to be gained if you know where to look.

That’s where the Scout Report comes in. Each week the Scout Report delivers an excellent list of amazing web sites rich with information. The down side? It’s educational. The up side? It’s educational. And you’ll find yourself clicking away to look at all the linked sites for hours, all the while learning more and more about each weeks focus.

The report for the week of Oct. 28 is particularly timely because it contains a wealth of resources about the history and practice of the election process in the United States. Especially of interest is detailed information about the electoral college. In addition, there is a wealth of links to resources focused on election history, women’s suffrage, voting rights, campaign buttons, polls and so much more.

You can get to the Scout Report here: https://scout.wisc.edu/report. The report I’m referring to above is the report dated October 28, 2016, Volume 22, Number 42, and the link to it is https://scout.wisc.edu/report/2016/1028. Near the top is a list of all the sites and associated links they suggest you visit. A little further down the page you’ll find a brief summary of what you will find at each link. Tremendous resource and one that you can make use of on Election Day so you’ll be prepared to argue with all the news commentators knowing that “Hey! I know this stuff!!” even if they don’t.

The current report (https://scout.wisc.edu/report/current) isn’t focused on any specific topic but it has some incredible resources listed; some educational, some just plain fun. Either way, worth a visit. And I should mention that once a new report is released, the current report is moved to the Past Scout Reports section (https://scout.wisc.edu/report/past) and contain the reports all the way back to 1994. If nothing else it can be fun rummaging around in the early reports just to get an idea of just how much the web has changed. Kind of like digging into a junk/antique shop - you just never know what you’ll find.

If you’re interested, you can always sign up to have the Scout Report delivered to your email inbox each week at this link: https://scout.wisc.edu/user/register. Trust me, it’s worth a quick look every week. Takes about 10 seconds to scan it and I promise that you’ll find some stuff out there that will astonish you and amaze your friends.
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A Caution About Apple's Auto Download of Sierra

In a significant departure from the past, as of this morning (October 4, 2016), Apple has changed their methodology for upgrading your Mac’s operating system.

Today, if your Mac is able to run Sierra, Apple is now pushing out the update without asking permission. This is going to surprise a lot of people and many users will be confused about what to do. The good news is that even though Apple downloads it, they don’t automatically install it. However, they do open a window that asks the user for permission to install, but based on experience we expect a lot of users to approve the install without being totally aware of what they are doing. 

Again, this is something that is not unusual, but it does carry some risk. Many updates and upgrades to software, including software from Apple, will often have issues on various machines and in different environments that Apple didn’t anticipate. In other words, bugs, and sometimes they are bugs that will stop your ability to do your work. This is a major reason why the better IT providers prefer to control software installations. It is their job to know what works and what doesn’t, and by knowing that, they are able to keep your computers up and running and make sure your company continues to be productive.

Historically speaking, every operating system upgrade brings unanticipated problems, some of which can have a big negative impact. This is why we always recommend NOT installing operating system upgrades and updates when they are first available. It’s best to let it wait for at least a week or two before moving forward. In the case of major upgrades from one system version to another, we have found that it is best to wait for the second or even third update to the new OS before doing the initial upgrade. 

So the question now is, how can you avoid having Apple download software on your computer that you may not want or need. And by doing so, helping you to avoid accidentally clicking through and letting it install when you really didn’t mean to.

There are a couple of simple things that you should do.

First, click on the Apple menu in the top left corner of your screen. Select “System Preferences” and click on it. In the case of older operating systems (OS X 10.8 and older) when System Preferences opens, click on the Software Updates button and make sure that the option for automatic updates is NOT checked. If it is checked, click on the box to uncheck it. When you’re finished, it should look something like this:




In the case of newer versions of Mac OS X (10.9 and later) you will have a preference pane called App Store Preferences which controls how your Mac does updates. When you find that button, click on it to access the settings and click the boxes to look like the window below:



In both cases this will leave your system ready to install security updates when released, but will still allow you to decline any downloads that Apple wants to push to your system. And if you really want total control, you can simply uncheck the option to Automatically check for updates. This will completely stop any automatic updates of any kind from Apple.

Second, if your Mac has already downloaded the installer for Mac OS X v. 10.12 (Sierra), should you see a dialog box appear asking if you want to upgrade to the new version of the Mac operating system, do NOT allow it to install. If you have already allowed it to install, don’t worry… you computing world is not in danger of collapsing. It’s just that this initial release of Sierra is just a little too bug ridden for comfort. In our opinion, we would like everyone to wait a bit longer to avoid any unnecessary issues. I’d rather have you wait for version 12.2 or 12.3 before doing the upgrade. If you are having issues with your Mac under the system that you currently have installed, let me know and we can talk about a solution.

For those clients of ours who are under our Managed Services plan, you can pretty much disregard this post as we will have already taken care of everything for you.

If you need clarification on any of this or want some help with taking care of this task, just let us know and we will get together on a phone call and get things configured to suit your needs.

We can be reached during office hours at 847-675-3513 or 24/7 by sending an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
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