A customer recently asked me about the security of using free wifi in places like coffee shops and burger restaurants etc. In essence, using your laptop in such a place and using their free wifi is reasonably risk free – with one exception that I can think of.

If you use Microsoft networking at home to share files and printers and the like, typically across a wireless network of your own, you will have a common “workgroup” across your various PCs and laptops etc. The default workgroup name that is provided by windows is “MSHOME” and understandably many people never change this.  This is fine all the time that you are just at home, as if your wifi is secured then nobody can see your shared workgroup.

However….  With free public wifi access areas, you could of course be sharing that network with anybody else.  And if they have the same workgroup as you then it is possible that they might be able to access any files that you have shared for network access on your laptop.

To avoid this possibility, alter any workgroup set on your laptops and other PCs at home to something other than the default, something specific to you.  And this will minimise the chances of strangers spying on any shared files you may then have on your laptop when using free public wifi.

Moving pains

Last month the P.C. Doctor looked at the process available to broadband users looking to change their broadband supplier. Whilst the process itself is fairly simple to arrange, the hidden issues behind a broadband change are not always obvious. This month the P.C. Doctor outlines a few of these “gotchas” and hidden issues.

Firstly, check the contractual requirements of your existing connection. Many I.S.P.s require a minimum duration of connection. This doesn’t mean that if the minimum term has not expired yet moving supplier is not possible, but it may mean that in order to do so the outstanding charges may need to be paid up front before cancellation of service.

Other than the above, the other areas to be considered when moving I.S.P.s are of a more localised, direct impact.

Router: Many new connection packages will include a new router free of charge, but if it doesn’t it could be that your existing router could still be used saving you the cost of the router. Whatever happens, your old connection details will no longer work after switch over and either your new, or existing router will need to be configured with the new connection information from your new I.S.P.

Wireless: If a wireless network is running off the old router/connection, than any new router will need to be configured to provide the wireless connectivity as well.

Email: I.S.P.s generally offer email accounts with their connections. Unfortunately, when broadband contracts are cancelled during a provider switch it is not uncommon for these email accounts to be switched off. So now the old email address will no longer work, and users will be unable to receive any uncollected emails sent to the old address before it got closed. The new I.S.P. will more than likely provide an email address with the new package of course but now users will have to pass this new email address onto all their friends and contacts.
There are other issues as well unfortunately relating to email when broadband provision is altered. If an email client e.g. Outlook Express is used to read and send emails, then that software’s configuration will also need updating to reflect the new email provider’s mail server information, both to receive and send emails.

Remote data storage and websites: Similar to email accounts, some I.S.P.s provide their customers with remote, online backup provision and areas to host a website. On account closure these are also likely to no longer exist – meaning the user has now lost all and any backups or remote files, and/or their website. So alternatives will need to be provided for come switch over clearly.

That all sounds quite scary probably. But in reality it’s not as bad as it sounds as long as you are comfortable with handling a little configuration. And of course if you are a little unsure, the P.C. Doctor is here to help, along with all and any other I.T. related queries or problems.

In these times of a plethora of options for broadband, phone and TV packages it is almost impossible to provide any definitive “what’s best” answer. The answer will always depend ion individual circumstances and usage. Some may simply require a broadband connection for minimal surfing and email. Others may wish for a large inclusive download provision for music downloads. Others yet again may require a large inclusive overseas telephone allowance on top of either of the above. And it could be of course that some may actually prefer to keep the sreas all desperate giving themselves the flexibility of finding the best specific packages for the constituent parts.

One thing remains constant in whatever broadband package a customer chooses to move to from an existing one. The process of making it happen, and the considerations that need to be made.

Moving Broadband Supplier

This process is pretty much straight forward. At least in theory! Having identified a new broadband supplier (or I.S.P.) the first thing to do is contact your existing I.S.P. and request a MAC (Migration Authorisation Code). By law your supplier cannot refuse you this MAC, and must supply it within 5 days, free of charge. However, there are plenty of alleged examples where this does not happen smoothly or at all, and OFCOM is the place to take your grievances should this occur. You should not cancel your connection at this stage. A supplied MAC is only valid for thirty days; after that period a new MAC will need to be requested.
Once the MAC is received, contact your preferred new supplier. During their sign up procedure the MAC will be requested and required. The new supplier will identify and inform of the new connection, switch over date, and they should drive the change process of cancelling your old arrangements and enabling the new. This process should be seamless.

The above describes the process for switching between I.S.P.s using “phone line” connections. Moves from phone line to cable, or vice-versa are simpler in many ways. This requires merely a cancellation of the existing method and organising the new connection, but the consumer will need to time the two themselves if continuous service is required.

That’s the easy part! There are however a myriad of other areas that may need consideration that are often the hidden “gotchas” that make such a process less than easy, or prove frustrating. In upcoming blogs, the P.C. Doctor outlines some of these, what to expect, and possible solutions.

Older readers may well remember “Hill Street Blues”, a cult US TV cop show that was shown on Channel 4 many moons ago. The program inevitably featured a brief by the Sergeant to the policemen and women before they hit the mean streets which often culminated in the concerned warning “Let’s Be Careful Out There”.

Well Rowde may not exactly be the mean streets of a US city, but in cyberspace Rowde is as vulnerable as New York, San Paulo or Springfield, so with his sergeant’s cap on the P.C. Doctor as ever must warn you all to “Be Careful Out There”.

In the past fortnight I have had the task of helping five people remove the rather nasty false anti-virus scam that has been doing the rounds for a few years now. As mentioned before in this column, it appears as if to be a valid anti-virus program that warns you that you have several thousand viruses etc but that for a small fee you can download the full version that will fix the viruses. Meanwhile it typically proves almost impossible to continue to use the computer as the warnings flash u8p constantly. Needless to say buying the software as it suggests doesn’t fix any reported viruses, because it’s a scam to get your credit card details – probably providing them to the Russian mafia I have heard. My usual advice with these scams is to never actually buy the software – ir doesn’t work and you have divulged your credit card information and to remove it immediately. You cannot do so via the normal control panel – software removal processes though; the web will unearth the ways to do this but it’s rather a convoluted process I am afraid and if you don’t get it right then you have to start it all over again. As it is, with my experience now of removing this stuff, I have got it down to about thirty minutes on a fastish PC!

One more warning while I am here for you all…

A Rowde resident phoned me recently to check a concern she had. She had received out of the blue a phone call allegedly from her broadband ISP warning her that they had noticed a pro

blem with her PC’s internet connection. They asked her to follow some steps which would give them access to her PC so they could fix it on the spot. Quite rightly she declined at that juncture asking them to call back later, then phoned me to check. A good job she did… as I already suspected and a web search easily illustrates this is quite a standard scam.

Needless to say the caller is actually unlikely to be an ISP and their remit is to gain access to your PC in order to install some spyware for whatever nefarious activities they desire. Could be a key logger that reports every key stroke you make … including passwords, logins, internet banking details etc. Could be its something that then allows them to use your PC as a mail relay so they can spam millions of other PC users around the world. The bottom line is – don’t trust any unsolicited calls, and ask them to write to you with any issues, and double check any phone numbers any letter or call asks you to phone then back on.

Lets be careful out there.

A member of the Nikko Management Ltd. group of businesses         Tel: 07010 70 3437 email: ian@pcdoctor-devizes.co.uk
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