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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Mac vs. PC Pros and Cons List

Can’t decide if you should buy a Mac or PC? It’s a tough decision because both platforms have different advantages and disadvantages. It really also depends a lot on external factors like what other devices you own and what kind of software you use.

For example, if you own an Xbox One, a Windows Phone, a Surface tablet and all the other computers in your home are Windows PCs, then it might be more convenient to stick with a PC. On the other hand, if you own an iPhone, an iPad, an Apple TV, and an AirPrint enabled printer, then a Mac would fit in really well with those other devices.

Additionally, even if you end up with a mixed environment with Windows and Mac devices, it’s pretty easy to share data across devices. It’s also fairly easy to access Mac files from a Windows PC and vice versa. You can even connect a Mac-formatted drive to a Windows PC and view the files directly. If you’re new to Mac, you’ll be happy to know that OS X has an equivalent for pretty much every feature in Windows.

So, without further ado, let’s go into the pros and cons for each platform, which includes the hardware and software. Obviously, this is a very biased and opinionated article, so feel free to share your thoughts if they are different.

Mac Pros and Windows Cons

macs

bootcamp

  • Macs work better with other Apple products in terms of software. This includes features like Handoff, iMessage, iCloud, iCloud Drive, iCloud Photo Library, iCloud Keychain, Find My iPhone, etc. Microsoft has tried to copy this, but only partially. 

icloud

  • Macs are less complicated and more intuitive to use. This is a very debatable point and the reason why I also list it as a con in the section below. If you’ve always been a Windows user, it can initially be counter-intuitive to use, however, I’ve found that it’s more logical once you get used to it. 
  • Even though Macs can get viruses or malware, the number of threats is still significantly less than for Windows just because the Windows base is so much larger. 
  • Almost all new PCs come installed with loads of bloatware from PC manufacturers, which requires manual removal. Mac computers have pre-installed software, but only from Apple and they don’t slow down your system. If you’re technically savvy, this is a non-issue, otherwise it can be a major nuisance. 
  • Apple has excellent customer support, AppleCare warranty programs, and exclusive Apple Stores where you can take your Mac or other Apple products for repairs, training or other issues.

apple care

  • Macs are sleek and visually appealing. To get something close from PC manufacturers usually ends up negating the higher cost factor for Apple products. 
  • Speaking of cost, Macs are more expensive than PCs, but they also hold their resale value far better than PCs.
  • Apple computers have some of the highest customer satisfaction rates in the industry. When you purchase a Mac, you are getting a high-quality machine. This can be true for PCs also, but with so many manufacturers and configurations, getting the best quality can be more difficult. 
  • Macs tend to be a bit more innovative in design and features. For example, Macs include Thunderbolt, USB Type C ports, multi-touch trackpads, force touch, keyboard backlighting and more. 

force touch mac

  • Macs can read NTFS or FAT formatted hard drives. Windows cannot read Mac formatted drives unless you install a third-party program.
  • The iMac, the only Mac desktop other than the Mac Pro, is an all-in-one computer that you can get with a 4K or 5K display, something that really doesn’t exist in the Windows market at all unless you get an ultra-expensive custom rig. There is the HP Envy, but it isn’t as good as the iMac.

PC Pros and Mac Cons

windows 10 laptop

  • PCs are manufactured by many different companies, resulting in a huge selection of devices with a wide variation in prices. With Apple, you have only a few choices with set prices. In terms of desktops, Apple has only one geared towards consumers, so if the cost is prohibitive, a Windows desktop will be a much better choice. 
  • PCs are more up-gradable and configurable. On Macs, you can usually only upgrade the RAM or hard drive and that’s it. Pretty much every component on a desktop PC can be switched out. When purchasing PCs, you also have a lot more options that you can configure including processors, cases, memory, hard drives, ports, displays, etc. 

pc components

  • Overall, there is a lot more software available for Windows than for PC. The opposite is true when you look at smartphones, but we’re talking about computers here. There is usually an equivalent Mac program for every Windows app, but they are not always as good.
  • Windows based PCs may have greater backwards compatibility. A five year old PC can easily run Windows 10 without any issue. A five year old Mac can run the latest version of OS X, but half the features will be missing and things don’t run as smoothly. For some reason, you always need the latest Mac in order to utilize all the new features in OS X.
  • PCs are the absolute best option when it comes to gaming. Macs simply do not come with as powerful graphics cards, even high-end machines like the Mac Pro.

pc gaming

  • Worldwide, most computers are PCs and Windows is the most popular operating system by far. This means the community is much larger and you can get more support for software and hardware.
  • In terms of accessories, PCs have a lot more options and those options are usually cheaper.
  • Though OS X is simpler, that’s not always the best for some people. Windows is more complex and powerful than OS X.
  • PCs can be configured with hardware that Apple considers obsolete. Some newer Apple machines don’t even come with CD/DVD drives. It also seems Apple keeps reducing the number of ports on each newer machine. The new Macbook has one USB port and one headphone jack and that’s it.
  • PCs work great with a whole slew of other products too. For example, you can stream your Xbox or PlayStation games to Windows.

These are some of the major pros and cons when it comes to Mac and PCs. There are a ton of other smaller pluses and minuses, but I don’t think those warrant that much attention when discussing this topic in general terms. Obviously, if you’re a professional graphics designer, then looking at specific compatible hardware and software would make more sense. 

The point of this article is not to say one platform is better than the other, because that is simply not true. If you are a college student and the only thing that matters to you is your budget, then a Mac will probably not be best choice, regardless of the other benefits. In my opinion, if you have never tried a Mac, you should ask a friend or family member to loan you a device to see how you feel about it. Just about everyone has used Windows, so you pretty much know what you are getting in terms of software.

Let us know your opinions about why Mac or PC is better for you in the comments. Enjoy!

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Hide One Friend From Another on Facebook

On Facebook, once you friend someone, they normally can see all of your friends by default. This is not very helpful if you want to friend someone, but don’t want that friend to know about another friend that you may have. Maybe you’re friends with two people who were together, but are now split up and hate each other.

Is there a way to prevent a friend from seeing another friend of yours? Well yes and no. As of right now, you can only block a friend from seeing all of your other friends. There is no way to block a friend from seeing just one friend. You have to hide your entire friend list from one or both friends so that they can’t see each other.

You can also configure it so that only you can see your list of friends and no one else can, but that’s a bit hardcore if you just want to prevent two friends from seeing each other. I’ll show you how to configure both options below.

So if you need to prevent someone from seeing who your other friends are, then you can follow the steps below to setup Facebook.

Hide Friends from Each Other on Facebook

First, click on your name at the top to view your profile. Now click on the little down arrow icon that is located at the top right of the Friends section and click on Edit Privacy. The Friends section will appear along the left-hand side below Photos.

edit privacy facebook

Note that you can also click on your name, then click on the Friends tab at the top and then click on the little pencil icon at the far right. The only option will be Edit Privacy.

edit privacy friends

This will bring up the Edit Privacy dialog. Go ahead and click on the little icon to the right and you’ll see a few options. If you click on Only Me, you’ll be the only person who can view your friend list. This is a bit extreme because it means NO ONE will be able to see who your friends are.

facebook friends privacy

If you want to just prevent ONE person from seeing your entire list of friends, you need to click on Custom.

custom privacy facebook

Under the Don’t share with section, go ahead and type in the name of the person you want to hide your friend list from. If you are trying to prevent two of your friends from seeing each other on your friend list, you’ll have to put in both of their names in the Don’t share with box so that neither can see your friend list.

However, like I said before, this means they won’t be able to see ANY of your friends, which might make them a bit suspicious as to why you’re blocking them from seeing your list of friends. Hopefully, Facebook will come out with a feature where you can hide one friend from another individually. But as of right now, this will get the job done.

Also, be sure to check out my previous post on how to hide your Facebook status from just one friend or specific friends. Lastly, if you want to have private conversations with smaller groups using Facebook, it’s best to create a private or secret group. A secret group is nice because only members can find the group, see who is in it and post to it. If you have any questions, post a comment. Enjoy!

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USB 2.0 vs. USB 3.0 vs. eSATA vs. Thunderbolt vs. Firewire vs. Ethernet Speed

Your desktop or laptop computer has a wide variety of ports and connection types, but what are they all for and how do they differ? USB 2.0, USB 3.0, eSATA, Thunderbolt, Firewire, and Ethernet are some of the technologies that are built into many of the computers sold today. So, what’s the fastest connection type? What type of connection is best to consider for an external hard drive? What about for 4K multi-monitor support? In this article, we’ll talk about the different types of high-speed data ports and how they are used.

Thunderbolt-Cable.png

No matter what type of computer you have, you probably have one or more of the high speed connection types covered in this article. Let’s first take a look at the different speeds for each type of connection. Note that the rated speeds are not what you’ll get in real-world conditions. Most likely, you’ll be able to get anywhere from 70% to 80% of the max speeds listed.

Speed

USB 2.0 Cable

The USB 2.0 connection type has pretty much become the standard. You have likely used a USB 2.0 cable to connect some device or drive to your PC or Mac at some point and you probably have several spare USB cables laying around the house. Even though USB 3.0 is here, many PC peripherals and other devices are still being manufactured with USB 2.0 connectivity.

Many devices do not yet use USB 3.0, nor do they use Thunderbolt. Why? Because USB 2.0 is simply fast enough to handle minor tasks and many devices simply do not require lightning fast speed, such as mice and keyboards. OK great, so how fast is USB 2.0 exactly?

USB 2.0 is rated at 480Mbps. That’s about 60 megabytes per second. For quick reference, 1000 Mbps equals 1 Gbps, which is considered gigabit.

USB 3

The USB 3.0 connection type is the next step for USB (from 2.0). USB 3.0 transfer speeds are about 10x faster than previous USB 2.0 speeds. So, what does that amount to?

USB 3.0 is rated at 5 Gbps. That’s about 640 megabytes per second. 

In 2013, USB 3.1 was also released and is rated up to 10 Gbps. That’s around 1280 megabytes per second or 1.2 GB per second. This means that USB 3.1 is about as fast as a single first generation Thunderbolt channel.

It’s also worth noting that the new USB Type C connection will support USB 3.1 for a max data transfer rate of 10 Gbps.

eSATA stands for external SATA. SATA, of course, is a connection type that is used to connect an internal hard drive to a computer. So, inside your desktop or laptop is the hard drive, which in most cases, connects to the motherboard using a SATA interface.

With eSATA, an external hard drive can use that same connection type and technology to be connect to the computer. The hard drive inside a computer is quicker than a standard external hard drive (USB 2.0), so what kind of speeds does eSATA produce?

eSATA is rated at 3 Gbps and 6 Gbps.

ESATA-Cable.png

Thunderbolt cables are the newest connection type featured on this list. Originally codenamed “Light Peak,” Thunderbolt was first a technology that was developed by Intel. For Thunderbolt’s consumer debut, Apple Inc. added the high speed interface to nearly all of their devices in the Mac lineup, making them one of the first companies to use the technology. Thunderbolt is capable of more than other connection types, but we will get to that later. What kinds of speeds does Thunderbolt produce?

Thunderbolt is rated at 10 Gbps per channel (x2). Thunderbolt 2 raises that value to 20 Gbps over a single channel. Thunderbolt 3 doubles the bandwidth again to 40 Gbps. 

Thunderbolt

Firewire, or IEEE 1394, is another connection type that was popular for a while, but has kind of gone away over the last few years. The popularity of USB 2 and USB 3 devices slowed adoption of Firewire, resulting in the slow decline of the connection. This occurred even though Firewire 400 and 800 are faster than previous USB technologies (not including 3.0).

Firewire is rated at 3 Gbps (400) and 6 Gbps (800).

Firewire Cable

Ethernet is a connection type that is used mainly for networking, so it is not designed to be super-fast. However, Ethernet cables can be used to transfer computer data too.

Ethernet is rated at 100 Mbps.

Ethernet

Summary

To summarize the above data, the connection types would result in the following, from fastest to slowest.

1. Thunderbolt (up to 40 Gbps)

2. USB 3.1 (10 Gbps), then USB 3.0 (5 Gbps)

3. eSATA (6 Gbps)

4. Firewire (6 Gbps)

5. Gigabit Ethernet (1 Gbps)

6. USB 2.0 (480 Mbps)

7. Ethernet (100 Mbps)

However, this analysis is not quite accurate. As mentioned earlier, in actual situations, many of these max speeds are rarely achieved. Here is a chart from Wikipedia that summarizes the specs for many connection types beyond just the ones I mentioned.

peripheral speeds

When purchasing an external device or a new computer, the main thing to consider is the version of the connection type. For example, if you are purchasing a new Retina MacBook Pro laptop, you’ll notice that it has a USB 3.0 port and a Thunderbolt 2 port.

macbook pro ports

If you hold off for a bit, Apple will probably include the newer Thunderbolt 3 connections into their latest MacBook’s, meaning you can do a lot more with those ports than before. For example, with Thunderbolt 2, you can connect up to one 4K display at 60Hz or two 4K displays at 30Hz to your computer. With Thunderbolt 3, you’ll be able to connect up to three 4K displays at 60Hz or one 5K monitor at 60Hz.

Ethernet is extremely slow and it can be used for file transfers and moving folders, but its main purpose is for local networking.

In my view, Thunderbolt and USB 3.1 (Type C) will eventually become the standard on most computers. They provide the most speed with extra features like two-way power and multi-monitor support. In addition, both technologies have already been adopted by many major PC manufactures. If you have any questions, feel free to comment. Enjoy!

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Edit the Windows Hosts File to Block or Redirect Websites

The Windows Hosts file is a file that Windows uses to control and map IP addresses. By editing the Hosts file, Windows can be customized to block or redirect specific websites and even protocols that are used by programs and applications.

To get started editing the Windows Hosts file, you first need to locate it. Open Windows Explorer and click on This PC or My Computer. Double-click on C:, then the Windows folder and scroll down the page until you reach the System32 folder. Inside of that folder, open drivers and then open etc. You’ll now see several files, one of which is hosts.

hosts file

Now, notice that the file type for the hosts file is listed as File. Because there is no default program set to open a file type like this, double clicking the hosts file will simply give you a Windows prompt, asking you which program you would like to use to open the file.

Choose a program prompt - Windows 7

From this prompt, you can choose to edit the hosts file with Notepad. So, simply click to select Notepad and click the OK button. From there, Notepad will launch with the hosts file information.

hosts file notepad

This way of opening the hosts file was demonstrated to show where the hosts file is actually located within Windows, but you won’t be able to edit it because it’s a system file. In order to edit the file, you have to open Notepad first, running as an Administrator.

Click on Start and type in Notepad, but don’t click on Notepad to open it. Rather, right-click the Notepad listing to bring up the context menu. Select the option Run as Administrator.

notepad run as admin

With Notepad open, select File > Open. Navigate to C:WindowsSystem32driversetc. You will get a blank screen that displays the prompt No items match your search. Change Text Documents (*.txt) to All Files using the drop down menu. Now, you can select the hosts file and click Open.

open hosts file

Adding files to the hosts file is very simple. The hosts file uses the format:

IP Address   exampledomain.com

Blocking a website in Windows is as simple as typing the following into the bottom of the hosts file:

127.0.0.1    www.exampledomain.com

So, if I wanted to block a website like www.nytimes.com, I could just add the following line:

127.0.0.1    www.nytimes.com

redirect website hosts

What we are actually telling Windows is that the website www.nytimes.com should redirect to the IP address 127.0.0.1, which is just the loopback address on our local system. If you don’t have a local website setup on your computer, you’ll just get an error page in your web browser.

site cannot be reached

Pretty cool, huh!? Obviously, you can see how this can be used in several different ways: a prank, parental control, etc. If you didn’t want to block the website in that way, you could also redirect it to another website. In order to do this, you have to find the IP address of the other site first.

To do that, just open a command prompt (click on Start and type in CMD) and type in the following command:

ping examplewebsite.com

ping website

In my example, I pinged Adobe.com. The IP address is 192.150.16.117. Now I can simply plug that number into my hosts file in front of www.nytimes.com.

hosts file redirect

Now when I visit www.nytimes.com, I get redirect to Adobe.com! Nice! Note that if this doesn’t work for the websites you are entering, it could be because of the URL you are using. For example, it makes a difference if you use www.nytimes.com as opposed to nytimes.com without the www. Visit the website and see exactly what the URL is for the website you want to redirect. You should always try without the www first to see if that works.

If the website uses HTTPS like Google.com or something, it should still redirect if you use the host name. There is no way to specify the HTTPS version of a website in the HOSTS file, but it should redirect the HTTPS and non-HTTPS versions of the website if you use just the host name (i.e. google.com).

Lastly, you can use the hosts file to create simple shortcuts to your own devices on the network. For example, my router is at 192.168.1.3 on my home network, but I could add the following line to my hosts file and simply type in myrouter.com into my address bar.

redirect to local device

It doesn’t really matter if myrouter.com is actually a website or not because the hosts file is read first and you are redirected to the IP address specified in the file. It’s worth noting that not all browsers may use the hosts file, so if it’s not working, that could be the issue. I tested it using IE, Microsoft Edge, Chrome and Firefox and it worked on all of the browsers.

Overall, the hosts file is still useful, even in Windows 10. It also still works just fine in Windows 8, 7, Vista, etc. If you have any questions, feel free to comment. Enjoy!

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