Security and Privacy

Malware, viruses, hacks, and anything else that may compromise your identity online, computer, or digital device.

Is it safe to use Amazon's Alexa?

Amazon Echo

Episode 1478

Julie from Santa Clarita, CA

Julie wants to get an Echo, but her husband is worried about privacy and eavesdropping. Are they safe? Leo says it's about as safe as a smartphone. Anything that has a microphone that's connected or broadcasts with a radio can be listened to quite easily. Alexa is always listening, that's true, but it's only listening for the wake word "Alexa," and then whatever follows that for up to 2 minutes. It won't widen the scope until the magic word is uttered. Then it sends the request to the home office for an answer. Can it incidentally record?

How can I reset my Windows 10 password?

PCunlocker

Episode 1476

Steve from Radondo Beach, CA

Steve forgot the password on his all-in-one Windows 10 machine. Leo says that can be a serious problem in Windows 10. But since Steve used his Microsoft account to log in, he can change the Microsoft password and he should be able to make it work. Microsoft also has a utility called MSDaRT, which has a feature called Locksmith Wizard that will reset his Windows 10 password. Third party utilities include PC Unlocker.

How can I securely erase an SSD?

Hard drives

Episode 1476

David from Hollywood, CA

Dan's computer was damaged and Acer is going to replace it, but he's worried about the data on it. How can he wipe the data? Leo says that there's a program called DBAN - Darik's Boot and Nuke that can wipe the drive pretty thoroughly. But Dan should understand that an SSD doesn't format the way a spinning hard drive does, and there can and will be some data leak, where someone could grab the data if they're really motivated.

Why doesn't my password vault input the right password?

LastPass

Episoide 1473

David from Florida

David uses a bunch of different browsers and everyone wants to save his passwords. It seems easier, but he says that it fills in the wrong password often. Leo says that's probably because David has multiple password managers and they are fighting. It's like antivirus software. It's best to have just one. Relying on the browser saving passwords isn't safe because that's not their main business and many have security flaws. David should use one password manager like LastPass, and it will input the right password.

How can I email files securely?

Email

Episode 1471

Fred from Fort Worth, TX

Leo says that Fred is right to be concerned about the security of sending emails because the contents of the messages can be read along the way. If the email is going from one Gmail address to another, however, it would be secure. Ultimately, though, Leo doesn't recommend sending attachments at all. Opening attachments is how most people end up getting infected, and it doesn't just affect that person either. It will spread to all of that person's contacts, affecting their family, business, and the internet as a whole.

How does 2-factor authentication work?

LastPass

Episode 1472

Taylor from Cincinnati, OH

Taylor is talking about using LastPass and its 2-factor authentication. How does that work? Leo says that 2-factor can be a biometric thing, like his thumbprint, or it can be an authenticator which will text him a code to his phone that he would input into the prompt. It's secret and only good for about 30 seconds before he would have to input a new code. It's a great way to protect online data.

How can I protect my email account in Outlook?

Email

Episode 1472

Nathan from Canada

Nathan gets a lot of "sketchy emails," and he wants to know how he can avoid that. Leo says he really can't avoid it, but most email programs can render any malware written into an HTML formatted email neutral. If he's using his mobile device, there's really no exploits that can hijack the phone. It's possible, but not at all likely. Malware emails are more dangerous in a browser rather than an email client. He can turn off HTML in the settings if that worries him, though.

Are encryption services really secure?

Encryption

Episode 1467

Gary from Cheektowaga, NY

Gary is an attorney and has heard of a business product called LockBin that promises to encrypt his data. Is it legit? Leo says that there are limits of privacy with an encryption service. If the service can give him his password, then it has access to all his data and it's not really reliable. If they can't give him the password because only he knows it, then he's in good shape. The downside, though, is that if he forgets it, he's out of luck.

How can I get my Windows computer to update?

Blue screen of death

Episode 1458

Rene from Corona, CA

Rene is having trouble updating Windows. It stalls out at 80%. He then reboots and it goes back to before he tried updating. Then he gets a blue screen and he can't restore or update. Leo says that not an unusual problem. If you think about it, with millions of computers, there's going to be a certain percentage that will experience issues like this, and updating while a computer is running is nontrivial. It could be something is blocking it, like a third-party antivirus app. It could also just be a bad download. Or this could be the Intel Spectre/Meltdown fix that is causing problems.