Online Tech Tips 2016-06-17 12:13:44

So you need to change the boot order on your Windows machine so that you can boot from USB in order to run an offline virus scanner? Or maybe you need to change the boot sequence so that you can boot from a Windows DVD to run a system repair?

Whatever the reason for changing the boot sequence, the process of accessing the BIOS can vary by computer. The difference will depend on whether you have a legacy BIOS or the newer UEFI BIOS on your computer or both.

I won’t go into details on the differences between the two types of BIOS, other than how to access them. Once you have gotten into the BIOS on your computer, you’ll then be able to change the boot order.

Access Legacy & UEFI BIOS

So first let’s talk about getting into the BIOS. If you’re not sure if your computer is using Legacy or UEFI BIOS or Legacy + UEFI, which is a third option actually, then you just have to do some trial and error.

Everyone is probably familiar with the legacy BIOS because that’s the one you access by pressing a certain key like DEL, F2, F8, F12, or ESC when your computer first starts up.

keyboard bios keys

The first thing to do is go ahead and restart your computer and then to keep pressing one of the keys on the keyboard continually while the computer is booting up. Usually, you will see a message quickly appear at the bottom telling you which keys to press. Here are two examples from a Dell machine and a custom built machine I have at home:

boot up bios

The motherboard on my custom PC is from MSI, so the boot up process loads a MSI screen with the option to press DEL to run BIOS setup or press F11 to run the boot menu. Note that if you go into the BIOS setup, you’ll also be able to change the boot order from there too. Since changing the boot order is such a common task, they usually have a separate key just for that (F11 in this case).

dell boot options

On my Dell, I get a different set of keys for accessing the BIOS setup (F2) and Boot Options (F12). Now if you don’t see this type of message popup at all when booting up, it could indicate that your BIOS is setup for UEFI only.

UEFI BIOS cannot be accessed by pressing keys on the keyboard. Instead, you have to restart Windows in a special way and then go through some menu options. To restart Windows, click on Start and then Settings (gear icon)

update and security

Next click on Update & Security.

recovery restart now

Then click on Recovery in the left-hand menu and then click on the Restart now button under Advanced startup. This will restart your computer and load the advanced recovery options screen. Here you want to click on Troubleshoot.

troubleshoot

Under the Troubleshoot heading, go ahead and choose Advanced Options.

advanced options

On this last screen, you should see an option called UEFI Firmware Settings.

uefi firmware settings

If you don’t see this option, that means your computer does not have an UEFI BIOS. You’ll instead have to boot using the legacy method by pressing the keys on startup. Note that if your BIOS is set to UEFI + Legacy BIOS, then you’ll be able to access both BIOS’s.

Change Boot Order

Now that we figured out how to access the BIOS, let’s change the boot order in Windows. If your computer is using legacy BIOS, make sure to press the key for boot options or boot order as that’ll get you right into the boot sequence screen.

For example, on my Dell machine, when I pressed F12 for Boot Options, I got the following screen:

dell boot screen

At the top, it tells me my boot mode is set to UEFI + Legacy and then it gives me Legacy Options and UEFI Options. If you don’t have any UEFI hard drives or devices on your computer, you’ll just see Windows Boot Manager. Now I can just pick which device I want to boot from.

On my custom machine, pressing F11 for the boot menu gets me to the following screen:

select boot device

As mentioned earlier, you can either go directly to the boot options like this or enter setup and then go to the boot section. Sometimes going through setup will give you more options. For example, on my custom PC, I entered BIOS setup, then Settings and then Boot.

bios boot settings

As you can see from the list below, there are a whole lot of options. Basically, the BIOS has all the UEFI and legacy boot options listed. So if you have a UEFI hard drive along with a legacy hard drive, you can choose the boot order for all of the devices.

uefi boot options

When you are in the BIOS boot order screen, you’ll see instructions for how to change the order. Sometimes you use the up and down arrow keys, sometimes the PgUp and PgDown keys, other times you just select Boot Option #1, like above, and pick which device boots first, etc. The method is dependent on the motherboard manufacturer, so follow the on-screen instructions.

Again, if you don’t have the UEFI Firmware Settings option and you don’t see any Press this key for setup message during startup, then just try restarting and pressing one of the keys mentioned above a couple of times while the PC is booting up. Don’t hold the key down, just keep pressing it. If one key doesn’t get you into the BIOS, then restart again and press a different key. If you have any trouble getting into the BIOS or changing the boot order, post a comment and we’ll try to help. Enjoy!

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41 Essential Skills for Windows Users

Recently upgraded to Windows 10? Or still using the all-time favorite Windows 7 on your PC? Whichever version of Windows you are using, there are certain tasks every Windows user should know how to do.

The tasks range from knowing how to restart your computer in safe mode to being able to change the name of your computer. Even if you can’t remember how to do these tasks on your own, you can always bookmark this page and use it as a quick reference.

windows 10 laptop

I’ve written hundreds of articles over the years on Online Tech Tips, so I’m going to be linking to each of my previous articles since they provide detailed step-by-step instructions for each task.

Essential Windows Skills

  1. Restart Windows in Safe Mode – Doesn’t matter which version of Windows you are running, at some point you will run into a problem (like the blue screen of death) where you need to restart your computer in safe mode.
  2. Optimize Windows Boot Times – Windows is a great operating system for anyone who likes to tweak and tinker around. There are lots of ways you can speed of Windows and this articles mentions 14 of them.
  3. Reset Windows User Password – When I did tech support, this was one of the most common requests from clients. Luckily, you can reset an Administrator password in Windows fairly easily.
  4. Using the MSCONFIG Tool – The MSCONFIG tool is kind of like a toolbox for managing various under-the-hood Windows settings. You won’t need to use it often, but it can come in extremely handy for some situations.msconfig windows 7
  5. Disable Startup Programs – As a corollary to the MSCONFIG tool, you can also manage startup items from within the tool. Disabling startup programs can save you a lot of time when first logging into Windows.
  6. Restore Windows to Factory Settings – Unfortunately, restoring Windows to factory settings is required when you can’t get rid of a virus or malware program. It’s also useful in other situations too.
  7. Create, Mount, or Burn an ISO – An ISO file is an image of a CD or DVD. You can copy CDs or DVDs to your computer and store them in ISO format or you can mount an ISO that you downloaded off the Internet.
  8. Find Windows Product Key – Not all computers have that little Windows sticker that tells you the product key. If you’re in that boat, then you can read this article on how to get your product key via software.
  9. View Saved WiFi Passwords – I do this all the time. I have a crazy, long WiFi password written on my router, but am too lazy to go read it. Instead, I can just get the password directly from Windows and share it with someone.
  10. Change Computer Name, Password, Picture – You should definitely know how to change the computer name, the computer password and the account picture in Windows.change account name win 10
  11. Configure AutoPlay – Every time you connect a device to your computer, AutoPlay determines how it is handled. You can take no action, have Windows ask you, automatically import photos and videos, etc.
  12. Install & Delete Fonts – If you like to try out new fonts in Windows, you have to install them first. If you have too many fonts, you can easily remove them.
  13. Customize Windows 10 Taskbar – If you’re using Windows 10, you should know how to customize the Taskbar, Notification Area and Action Center.
  14. Setup Dual Monitors – Dual monitor setups are becoming much more common these days, so it’s a good idea to know how to set them up and what kind of support Windows has for dual monitors.dual monitors
  15. Split Your Screen – If you can’t have two separate monitors, you can still split your screen or desktop into multiple parts using Windows.
  16. Rip DVDs to PC – Got some old DVDs lying around your house that you would rather have stored safely on your computer? HandBrake can help you rip them easily.
  17. Clear the Print Queue – Have you ever printed something and it just got stuck in the queue? If so, clearing the print queue will usually fix the problem.
  18. Command Prompt Basics – The Command Prompt is essential to Windows and it should be something all users know how to use on a basic level: open it, type a few commands, etc.open command prompt
  19. Military Clock Time – If you love the 24-hour format, then you can switch from the 12-hour format to military time very easily in Windows.
  20. Upgrade Windows – Every release of Windows comes in multiple versions and you can pretty much upgrade from within Windows itself to gain access to business or enterprise features.
  21. Burn CDs, DVDs & Blu-ray Discs – Even though I don’t burn that many discs these days, it’s still something a lot of people do and will be doing for a long time to come.
  22. File & Folder Permissions – The entire Windows file system is built around permissions, so it’s pretty essential that you understand permissions, especially if you want to keep sensitive data secured.folder lock
  23. Encrypt USB Flash Drive – Related to permissions is encryption. Here’s an in-depth article on encrypting a flash drive, which is important since they are so popular and easy to lose.
  24. Encrypt Hard Drive – With all the snooping that the government can do, it’s probably a good idea to encrypt your hard drive too if you want to keep your data secure.
  25. Remove a Virus – This article explains how you can use an offline virus scanner to completely remove a virus or malware from your system.
  26. Defrag Windows? – Do you need to defragment Windows anymore? This article explains defragmentation in Windows and related topics like SSDs.
  27. Sync Two Folders – Ever need to keep two folders stored in different locations synchronized without using a cloud service?
  28. Map Network Drive – Mapping network drives in Windows is not necessarily essential, but very convenient if you know how to do it. You can also map a folder to a drive letter in Windows.windows 8 map drive
  29. Enable/Disable System Restore – System restore has saved me many times over and I recommend you keep it enabled for the active partition (where Windows is installed). You can disable it for other drives. Here’s how to use System Restore to restore the Windows Registry too.
  30. Uninstall Java (JRE) – With all the security holes in Java, you should know how to remove it if you are not using it.
  31. Format External Hard Drive – You should also know how to format an external hard drive in FAT32 format, which will make it compatible with pretty much all operating systems.
  32. Change Default Programs – By default, Windows will open files with whatever the default program is. You can change this so that pictures open with Adobe Photoshop rather than the Photos app, etc.windows 8 default programs
  33. Share Internet Connection – Got an Internet connection on your computer, but need to share it with others? Create a virtual wireless network and you’re good to go.
  34. Find Router IP Address – Need to log into your wireless router, but can’t figure out the IP address? This article shows you how to find that information.
  35. Update BIOS? – Not sure if you need to update the BIOS on your computer? This article will explain the advantages and disadvantages.
  36. Scan Network for Devices – You should know what devices you have on your network and this article will explain the ways you can go about doing this.network scan results
  37. Uninstall & Reinstall Windows Updates – There are times when a Windows update will mess up your computer and you will need to uninstall it.
  38. Move Mouse with Keyboard – Though rare, sometimes you may have to use your computer without a mouse. It’s good to know how to move the mouse using your keyboard.
  39. Connect Laptop to TV – Want to get your computer screen to show up on your fancy HDTV? This article explains the different connection methods.
  40. Legally Download Windows – If you have a product key, did you know that you can easily download legal copies of Windows 7, 8 or 10?download microsoft os
  41. Secure Windows 10 – Finally, you should go through Windows and make sure your privacy is being protected by securing Windows 10.

If you have any other essential tips, feel free to post them in the comments. Enjoy!

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Monitor Hidden Website and Internet Connections

You can be pretty sure that your computer is connected to the server hosting my website as you read this article, but in addition to the obvious connections to the sites open in your web browser, your computer may be connecting to a whole host of other servers that are not visible.

Most of the time, you’re really not going to want to do anything written in this article since it requires looking at a lot of technical stuff, but if you think there is a program on your computer that shouldn’t be there communicating secretly on the Internet, the methods below will help you identify anything unusual.

It’s worth noting that a computer running an operating system like Windows with a few programs installed will end up making a lot of connections to outside servers by default. For example, on my Windows 10 machine after a reboot and with no programs running, several connections are made by Windows itself, including OneDrive, Cortana and even desktop search. Read my article on securing Windows 10 to learn about ways you can prevent Windows 10 from communicating with Microsoft servers too often.

There are three ways you can go about monitoring the connections that your computer makes to the Internet: via the command prompt, using Resource Monitor or via third-party programs. I’m going to mention the command prompt last since that’s the most technical and hardest to decipher.

Resource Monitor

The easiest way to check out all the connections your computer is making is to use Resource Monitor. To open it, you have to click on Start and then type in resource monitor. You’ll see several tabs across the top and the one we want to click on is Network.

resource monitor

On this tab, you’ll see several sections with different types of data: Processes with Network Activity, Network Activity, TCP Connections and Listening Ports.

resource monitor processes

All the data listed in these screens are updated in real time. You can click on a header in any column to sort the data in ascending or descending order. In the Processes with Network Activity section, the list includes all the processes that have any kind of network activity. You’ll also be able to see the total amount of data sent and received in bytes per second for each process. You’ll notice there is an empty checkbox next to each process, which can be used as a filter for all the other sections.

For example, I wasn’t sure what nvstreamsvc.exe was, so I checked it and then looked at the data in the other sections. Under Network Activity, you want to look at the Address field, which should give you an IP address or the DNS name of the remote server.

filter process resource monitor

In and of itself, the information here won’t necessarily help you figure out whether something is good or bad. You have to use some third-party websites to help you identify the process. Firstly, if you don’t recognize a process name, go ahead and Google it using the full name, i.e. nvstreamsvc.exe.

search for process

Always, click through at least the first four to five links and you’ll instantly get a good idea of whether or not the program is safe or not. In my case, it was related to the NVIDIA streaming service, which is safe, but not something I needed. Specifically, the process is for streaming games from your PC to the NVIDIA Shield, which I don’t have. Unfortunately, when you install the NVIDIA driver, it installs a lot of other features you don’t need.

Since this service run in the background, I never knew it existed. It didn’t show up in the GeForce panel and so I assumed I just had the driver installed. Once I realized I didn’t need this service, I was able to uninstall some NVIDIA software and get rid of the service, which was communicating on the network all the time, even though I never used it. So that’s one example of how digging into each process can help you not only identify possible malware, but also remove unnecessary services that could possibly be exploited by hackers.

Secondly, you should look up the IP address or DNS name listed in the Address field. You can check out a tool like DomainTools, which will give you the information you need. For example, under Network Activity, I noticed that the steam.exe process was connecting to IP address 208.78.164.10. When I plugged that into the tool mentioned above, I was happy to learn that the domain is controlled by Valve, which is the company that owns Steam.

whois ip address

If you see an IP address is connecting to a server in China or Russia or some other strange location, you might have a problem. Googling the process will normally lead you to articles on how to remove the malicious software.

Third Party Programs

Resource Monitor is great and gives you a lot of info, but there are other tools that can give you a little bit more information. The two tools that I recommend are TCPView and CurrPorts. Both pretty much look exactly the same, except that CurrPorts gives you a whole lot more data. Here’s a screenshot of TCPView:

tcpview

The rows you are mostly interested in are the ones that have a State of ESTABLISHED. You can right-click on any row to end the process or close the connection. Here’s a screenshot of CurrPorts:

currports

Again, look at ESTABLISHED connections when browsing through the list. As you can see from the scrollbar at the bottom, there are many more columns for each process in CurrPorts. You can really get a lot of information using these programs.

Command Line

Finally, there is the command line. We will use the netstat command to give us detailed information about all the current network connections outputted to a TXT file. The information is basically a subset of what you get from Resource Monitor or the third-party programs, so it’s really only useful for techies.

Here’s a quick example. First, open an Administrator command prompt and type in the following command:

netstat -abfot 5 > c:\activity.txt

netstat command

Wait for about a minute or two and then press CTRL + C on your keyboard to stop the capture. The netstat command above will basically capture all network connection data every five seconds and save it to the text file. The –abfot part is a bunch of parameters so that we can get extra information in the file. Here is what each parameter means, in case you are interested.

netstat command help

When you open the file, you’ll see pretty much the same information that we got from the other two methods above: process name, protocol, local and remote port numbers, remote IP Address/DNS name, connection state, process ID, etc.

netstat output

Again, all of this data is a first step to determining whether something fishy is going on or not. You’ll have to do a lot of Googling, but it’s the best way to know if someone is snooping on you or if malware is sending data from your computer to some remote server. If you have any questions, feel free to comment. Enjoy!

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How to Setup Your Own Personal Cloud Storage

For those folks who don’t trust their data in the cloud, the best storage solution is usually local, meaning either an external hard drive or a computer. The advantage to this solution is that you don’t have to pay any money to store your data (other than purchasing the drives) and you don’t have to worry about someone else being able to get into your data (for the most part).

However, there are several disadvantages to storing everything locally on internal and external hard drives. Firstly, unless you have a good backup solution in place, you are more at risk of losing your data. Cloud storage companies have many redundant layers of backup to protect all your data.

Secondly, it can be really difficult and frustrating to access data stored on a single external hard drive from anywhere in the world on any device. Cloud storage services usually make this really easy by having desktop apps and mobile apps for accessing data.

cloud storage

If you want the advantages of cloud storage, but the security of having everything locally stored, you should consider setting up personal cloud storage. Again, you’ll get all the mobile and desktop apps and everything will be synced, but you’ll have the data stored locally on your own devices.

Again, you’ll have no monthly fees to worry about, but you’ll have a higher up-front cost. Personal cloud storage is also really good for anyone who has terabytes of data they need to store, but don’t want to pay the hefty monthly costs associated with anything over 1 TB. For example, after the 1 TB plan on Google Drive, it skips to 10 TB and you have to spend $99 a month.

With OneDrive, you can only add more space after 1 TB in 50 GB increments. Each 50 GB increment costs $1.99. To get to 10 TB, you’d have to pay a whopping $360 a month! With Dropbox, you can only get a max of 1 TB with a Pro account. If you want more than that, you need to become a business customer with at least 5 users.

Understanding Network Hard Drives

So what do you need to buy in order to get your own cloud storage setup? Well, you’re basically buying a network attached storage device or NAS. Note that a NAS device is slightly different than a network hard drive.

In my view, a network hard drive is a single hard drive inside a device that connects to the network and provides a web interface to control and access data. A NAS has multiple hard drives that can be configured in a RAID array, thereby providing in-built data protection.

I recommend staying away from single network hard drive solutions because it’s pretty much the same thing as using a regular external hard drive, except you get all the cloud features. However, if the drive fails, you lose all your data, which may or may not be duplicated somewhere else.

For example, if you consider the WD My Cloud Personal NAS, the single drive is really just a network hard drive. If you get the dual drive version, then it can be considered a NAS in my opinion.

wd my cloud nas

As you can see, though, you can get 8 TB worth of storage for about $400, which is not bad at all. Of course, there is one caveat to consider. The reason I suggest a NAS device with two or more hard drives is for data protection. If you put your drives into a RAID array, one drive can fail and you won’t lose any data.

All of the devices mentioned here support RAID on the NAS devices and it’s actually really easy to setup. The only issue is that you lose some available space. For example, if you take the 8 TB NAS above and use RAID 1, you’ll only have 4 TB of free space. If you use RAID 5, you’ll need at least 3 drives, but will get two-thirds of the total space of all three drives.

Considering you can get a dual drive 16 TB NAS for around $750, even being left with 8 TB is probably way more than enough for even creative professionals.

Other Benefits of a NAS

nas device

Beyond the personal cloud benefits and being able to sync your data across all your different devices, NAS devices provide a lot of other benefits. Not every device I mention below supports all of these features, except for Synolgy, so be sure to check the features on the device you are considering.

  • Data protection when using a mutli-bay NAS with RAID
  • Ability to locally and remotely stream videos from NAS to games consoles, set-top boxes, smartphones and tablets
  • Ability to connect IP cameras to NAS for video surveillance and recordings
  • Ability to backup local computers (Windows, Mac, Linux) to the NAS
  • Ability to backup entire NAS to online cloud storage services like Amazon S3, Glacier, etc.
  • Ability to use your NAS a FTP server, web server, mail server, etc. with the use of apps
  • Ability to share files and folders easily with anyone

As you can see, the benefits of having a NAS are much more than just having your own personal cloud storage. You can do a lot with these devices, which makes the up-front cost more bearable.

Personal Cloud Storage Solutions

So which NAS should you get? Well, when it comes to cloud storage, what you are really looking for is great software. All the major hard drive vendors have NAS devices with some sort of personal cloud option, but only a few work really well and have a suite of apps to manage the cloud data.

Synology

I personally have a WD My Cloud EX2 Ultra and a Synology DS 411+II and I find the Synology to be an absolutely amazing device. My Synology NAS is several years old, but can still be updated to the latest version of DSM (DiskStation Manager). The software running on the NAS is excellent and is almost like using Windows.

synology dsm

They have several mobile apps that work very well for managing the NAS, viewing your files, streaming photos and videos and for managing your personal cloud. What I like about Synology is that they are constantly updating their hardware and software so that it supports the latest technology. They also have a lot of different models with a wide price range.

nas selector

If you’re not sure which one would work for you, just use their NAS selector tool. If you’re not a technical person, no worries. Adding hard drives to these devices is very simple and straight-forward. Also, a lot of times you can buy them with the drives already installed.

Western Digital My Cloud

The other product I would recommend is WD’s My Cloud and My Cloud EX series. Overall, these devices are great, but they lack the feature set and finesse of the Synology products. I found them to be a little harder to setup and I didn’t like the selection of mobile apps.

Whereas Synology pretty much has a separate app for everything, WD only has two apps, which aren’t that great at what they are supposed to do anyway. However, if you don’t care so much about all of these extra features, then the WD My Cloud products are still a good choice.

wd my cloud features

You can also check out the Expert Series, which is basically a more powerful NAS in addition to the cloud capabilities.

mycloud expert series

Seagate

Seagate is one of the biggest manufacturers of hard drives in the world, so it’s no surprise that they have also gotten into the NAS business. I personally have not used their Personal Cloud Storage drives and I recommend doing your research before you buy anything.

seagate personal cloud

The drive only has about 3.5 stars on Amazon, with most people seeming to complain about the software. Again, this is where Synology really shines and beats out everyone else.

There are obviously more choices for personal cloud storage, but these are your best choices on the market right now. If something new comes out or something better, I’ll be sure to update this post with that information. If you have any questions, feel free to comment. Enjoy!

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How to Tell if an Email is Fake, Spoofed or Spam

So a friend recently told me that they got a verification email from Apple stating that a new email address had been added to their Apple ID. The person knew that they didn’t add any email address and when they logged into their Apple account, no other email other than their own was showing up.

The friend wanted to know whether this was a phishing email or was it legitimate, but sent to them incorrectly by Apple? Well, it ended up being a fake email that was trying to get the user to click on a link so that they would enter their Apple ID credentials. Luckily, the friend didn’t click the link, but instead opened his browser and typed in iCloud.com and logged in that way.

Even though this friend received a phishing email, not all verification emails are fake. In this article, I’ll show you how you can tell whether the email is fake or not and the best practice for checking your account if you’re not sure.

Verification Emails

Even though I’m an IT guy and overall computer geek, I still get spoofed by some emails myself. For example, the first time I got this email from Google, I was worried someone was trying to hack into my account.

gmail address created

The wording of this email makes it sound like someone created a new email account and somehow linked it to my account. Could they then try to recover my password and get it sent to this new email address? I wasn’t sure, so I clicked on the link at the bottom, which states that if you didn’t create this email address, then you can unlink it from your account.

I probably shouldn’t have clicked the link in the email since I didn’t really know at that moment if it was from Google or not. Luckily for me, it was and the email was harmless. Basically, when someone creates a new Gmail account, they have to add a recovery email address, which sometimes gets mistyped and hence sent to the wrong person. In any case, you do have to be vigilant before clicking on any link in these types of emails.

How to Check if an Email is Authentic

In order to verify an email as authentic, you have to look at the sending email address and also the email header to be really safe. The ability to distinguish between a real email and a fake one also depends on your email client. I’ll explain further below.

For example, in the above screenshot, you can see that the email was sent from mail-noreply@google.com. This should confirm that the email is really from Google, correct? Well, it depends. If someone sets up a rogue email server, they can send a fake email that can show the sending address as whatever@google.com. Even though they can fake this aspect, the rest cannot be faked.

So how do you verify that an email is actually being sent from the real source and not someone else? In simple terms, you check the email header. This is also where the email client comes into play. If you are using Gmail, you can verify the source very quickly by simply clicking on the Show Details arrow directly below the name of the sender.

gmail show details

The important sections are mailed- by, signed-by and encryption. Since it says google.com for both of these fields, the email is truly from Google. For any email that claims to come from a bank or big company, it should always have the mailed-by and signed-by fields. A visible mailed-by field means that email was SPF-authenticated. A visible signed-by field means the email was DKIM-signed. Lastly, the email will almost always be encrypted if sent from a major bank or company.

Even though these fields ensure the email was verified, you need to make sure it was verified by the same company supposedly sending it. For example, since this email is from Google, it should say google.com for the two fields, which it does. Some spammers have gotten smart and sign and verify their own emails, but it won’t match the actual company. Let’s take a look at an example:

fake email header

As you can see, this email is supposedly from ICICI bank, but the email address automatically casts doubt on the authenticity of the email. Instead of anything related to the bank name, the domain is seajin.chtah.com, which is very spammy sounding. The email does have the mailed-by and signed-by fields, but again, it’s not the bank domain. Lastly, there is no encryption on the email, which is very shady again.

another fake email

Here’s another email where there is a mailed by field and it was encrypted, but is certainly not from Microsoft. As you can see, the domain is not Microsoft.com, but some unheard of domain. When verifying emails, always check that the sending email address is from the company you believe it is from, i.e. whatever@paypal.com and that mailed-by and signed-by are from the latter part of the email address, i.e. paypal.com.

Let’s look at one more example, which can be a little confusing.

email example

Here, I have an email from a company called Actiontec, but it is VIA actiontecelectronics.onmicrosoft.com. It’s also signed by actiontecelectronics.onmicrosoft.com and has been encrypted. In this case, it means that the email is being sent by a third-party email service, which can’t necessarily be authenticated. In this case, the company is using Office 365 for their company email and that’s why it’s being sent from that domain.

Even though the above email is legitimate, the information in the header does not guarantee that the email is safe. You best option here is to make sure the third-party email service is also a large reputable company. In this case, it’s from Microsoft. Lastly, if someone is really trying to fake another email address, Google will probably be able to tell and give you a warning like this:

gmail warning

Or something like this:

gmail warning message

If you ever get any of these warnings, then you shouldn’t trust the emails at all. You might be wondering what to do if you’re not using Gmail and if you’re not looking at the email in the web browser? Well, in those cases, you have to view the full email header. Just Google your email provider name followed by “view email header“. For example, Google Outlook 2016 view email header to get instructions for that client.

Once you do that, you want to search for the following pieces of text under the heading Authentication Results:

spf=pass

dkim=pass

The spf line is equivalent to the mailed-by field in Gmail and dkim is equivalent to signed-by. It should look something like this:

authentication results

Again, even if both items have PASS, you need to make sure it’s for the real domain, not the fake one the spammer may be using. If you want to read more about email authentication in Gmail, check out these links below:

https://support.google.com/mail/answer/180707?hl=en

https://support.google.com/mail/troubleshooter/2411000?hl=en&ref_topic=3395029

https://support.google.com/mail/answer/1311182?hl=en

After testing multiple services, it’s also the reason why I stick with Gmail over other email clients and why I specifically use the web interface because it provides many more layers of protection that you otherwise wouldn’t get.

Lastly, you should make it a habit of going to the browser and manually visiting a website rather than clicking on the link in the email. Even if you know the email is safe, it’s a sure-fire way of knowing you’re not visiting some spoof website. If there is a link in an email that must be clicked, make sure to check the URL in the address bar of your browser before you enter any login details or other sensitive information. If you have any questions, feel free to comment. Enjoy!

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