Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Managing Your Inbox*

One of the very first things I do in the process of starting my day is I check my e-mail Inboxes. It is as much a part of my routine as my morning cup of coffee. This morning, it struck me that you do not have to be a computer geek to realize and appreciate that electronic communication has become an important — if not vital — part of our lives. And that it has changed the way we live.

If you will pardon a little self-indulgent reminiscing, I would like to tell you in a before-and-after manner, that I am old enough to well-remember what it was like in the days before email, Instant Messaging, and cell phones. In my High School years there simply were no such things. (There were no ATM machines either, if you can imagine that.)

When I wanted to find out what my friends were up to, I picked up a Slimline telephone (with cord) and tried to catch them before they left, but I usually had to track them down by “making the rounds”, in person, of our ‘hangouts’…which put a lot of miles on my 10-speed bike.

Besides ‘Ma’ Bell, the other method of communicating was the mail, now known as “snail mail”. How we ever got along back then is beyond me.

Today the speed at which I transmit written correspondence is limited only by how frequently the recipient checks their Inbox. My pals answer their phones no matter where they are (or their voicemail does) or what they’re doing.. who doesn’t carry a cellphone? I not only talk to my niece and nephew out on the East Coast, but I can see them via “videoconferencing” (free). Or I can “chat” with IM, no matter the miles of separation (also free).

But of all these modern methods, I rely the most on email. Email is the main way I stay informed and in contact with my friends and kinfolk, and the same is probably true for you.

Because I am an “email guy”, I am perhaps overly aware of the negatives of email. I am peeved by spam, alarmed by phishing, nervous about privacy, and paranoid about hackers and e-criminals. I have written a few articles on these ‘negatives’ and how to combat them, and my “Tip of the day” today is,  if you have not read them, to consider clicking on the following links.
Managing your email: eliminating the junk

Managing junk mail in Outlook/Thunderbird
They ARE reading your mail

How to block ads
Simple e-mail encryption

It is my hope that the knowledge you find there will make using the modern miracle of electronic communication a safer and more pleasant experience.

Note: I just have to add.. be very leery of e-mail attachments, and don’t ‘open’ them from people you don’t know. And I know you’ve heard this a million times — never click the link. Type the URL into your browser, it is easy to make them look like they go one place, and they really go someplace else.

Today’s free download: If you are considering building your own website, or are interested in free WYSIWYG web-authoring tools, a nice tool is the free version of Web Easy Professional, by V-Comm.

Copyright 2007-9 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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May 7, 2009 Posted by | advice, computers, e-mail, how to, Internet, security, spam and junk mail | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wow! + Securing your e-mail, Part 5

Folks, I am just not sure that I have it in me to write today — I’m still staggered by yesterday’s Super Bowl. I’m reeling. Stunned. And.. chagrined.
At the very start of the season I predicted (to anyone who would listen) that the New England Patriots would win the Super Bowl. I repeated this prediction — with growing assurance — each week.
(“But what about the Colts?” was the main objection/reaction I received.)

The omniscience of my prediction was bolstered by an undefeated season, and the Pats went into yesterday’s game something like 12-point favorites. They were playing (against) a wildcard team (only once before has a wildcard team made it all the way to Super Bowl victory) led by a young and untested QB.
I think you can figure where I placed my bet. Who could not say that the Patriots were the best team this year?
Wow. The reality was like a Disney movie. I expect the scientists to announce that the Earth’s magnetic poles have flipped positions any day now.

Now, back to work:
Now that we have WinPT installed and configured, it is time to start using GPG to encrypt our e-mails. Our public and private keys have been generated, and our public key is has been made into a transferable file (“Export”).

But first, lets review:
a: You will have downloaded and Installed WinPT, as I described in Part 3 of this series. (Those of you using a e-mail client other than Outlook Express will also need to download+Install the appropriate “plug-in”.)
b: And you will have configured the encryption program (GPG) and generated your keypair, as described in Part 4.
c: Those of you using Outlook Express (as I am for this demonstration) also need to launch the OE plug in (GPGOEInit). Simply click on it in the WinPT folder of your Programs list. Start >All Programs >Windows Privacy Tools >GPGOEInit. (also, please note the “Documentation” option.)
gpgoe.jpg

If you have played along, you should see two icons in your System Tray (by the clock), the WinPT “key”, and the OE plug-in’s “padlock”.
icons.jpg
d: You will also have “Exported” your private key, and sent your key to the person(s) you want to exchange encrypted e-mail with. (The documentation, and my previous articles, discuss key exchange methods.) They will use your key to encrypt the e-mails they send to you.

Congratulations! You have come far. But, it should be fairly clear that for encryption to work, both ends of the transaction need to have the encoding/decoding tools– in short, the person you are exchanging encrypted messages with also needs to have GPG installed, and they will have needed to send you their public key (which you will have “Import”-ed onto your keyring).
If they have not (yet) installed WinPT/GPG, you can point them to this series by copy>pasting this URL https://techpaul.wordpress.com/2008/01/28/whos-reading-your-e-mail-part-1/ and sending it to them.

If these thing are in place, open OE and create a new message.

send.jpg

When using GPG, the appropriate method to encrypt the message is to issue a hotkey command: when your e-mail is typed and ready to go out, hit Ctrl+Alt+E. You will see a WinPT window tell you that the encryption was successful. Now click Send.
When you receive an encrypted message, open it and hit the Ctrl+Alt+D key.

The screenshot below shows the sample e-mail (encrypted) as viewed by a machine which does not have GPG capability. This is how it looks to anyone who might intercept it.
scrambled.jpg

Clearly, this “after” picture is quite a bit different than the “before” picture, and my e-mail is unreadable by unwanted eyes.
Now you can safely and securely exchange sensitive, private, e-mail with only the intended recipient.

I will continue this series with more ways to use WinPT/GPG, and describe other tools/methods for encrypting e-mail, but will take a bit of a break before doing so — there is much in news I want to discuss first.

[Please note: the e-mail accounts and keys shown were temporary and have already been deleted.]

Today’s free link: For many people, the best part of any Super Bowl is the commercials. If you would like to view this year’s ads again, click here. You can even vote for your favorite.

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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February 4, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, encrypting files, IE 7, PC, privacy, security, tech, Windows | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Encrypt your e-mail for privacy+security, Part 2

While e-mail is wonderfully efficient and fast (not to mention, free), it is not a terribly private nor secure communications medium. As I mentioned in the introduction to this series, Who’s reading your e-mail?, e-mail is transmitted in very-easy-to-open plain text (or HTML), travels through many different devices, and sometimes gets mis-delivered, or lost.. or ‘stolen’.

There are times when the material we need to communicate to someone else could really hurt us if the wrong eyes saw it. Some things should remain “confidential” (For Your Eyes Only) or/and private (Top Secret). These subjects may be your account numbers, business plans, bids or cost-estimates, love letters, travel plans, and whatnot. Unencrypted e-mail is really not the way to transmit these things.

Tip of the day: Encrypt your private communications. This series of articles will tell you how to implement a free method of encrypting your e-mail messages using GPG.
(For those readers who took my advice in yesterday’s article and looked at the description of Public-key cryptography on Wikipedia, this next will be review…) GPG uses “keys” to encrypt and decrypt files, as do most such tools. The problem with encrypting communications is — how do you give a copy of the key (so they can ‘unlock’ the file you have ‘locked’) to the person you’re sending to?
This dilemma is solved with the concept of key pairs– we are going to use GPG to generate a key pair: a “public” key, which we can send to anyone we like (or publish, for all to see), and one “private” (aka “secret”) key. It will take both keys for the system to work. (As the name implies, it is rather important to keep your private key to yourself… and to store a copy in a safe location.)

The way it works is:
1) you will encrypt your file/letter using your private key. Which you then Send to your intended recipient.
2) Your recipient uses you public key to decrypt and read your letter/file.

When your correspondent wants to send you a reply:
1) they encrypt it using your public key, and..
2) you decrypt the reply with your private key.
It takes both keys to work, and only you will have the private key.

The tool we are going to use, GPG (as part of WinPT [Windows Privacy Tools]), is quite flexible and adept, but works best (at encrypting e-mail) as a “plug-in” for your e-mail client (Outlook, Thunderbird, Outlook Express, ie.)
and your ‘private’ e-mail accounts.. such as the account your are provided with by your ISP.
(I will, also, demonstrate how it can used with browser accessed “web mail” accounts, such as the free services like Hotmail, Gmail, and Yahoo Mail.)

Those of you already using a client to access and mange your e-mail accounts will simply have to download GPG (Apple) or WinPT (and the appropriate plug-in) and install it, generate a key pair, and send your public key to those folks you want private correspondence with. Once that’s done you will be able to either automatically encrypt your e-mails (and their attachments), or right-click >encrypt.
WinPT comes with a built-in Outlook Express plug-in; and GPG offers plug-ins for the popular e-mail clients, and some of the less-popular clients too, such as Apple Mail and Eudora. For a complete list of compatible e-mail clients, click here.

For those of you who typically log into your e-mail via a web browser (IE, Firefox, etc.), I believe that in the long run — if you want to encrypt your mail — you will find it easier to get into the habit of using a client instead. I will be using Outlook Express for my demonstration (since all Windows machines come with it), but for everyday use I recommend using today’s free link.

To skip to Part 3, click here.

Today’s free link: I have posted this free tool before, but since it is so in-step with our topic (and it’s a darned-good program to boot) I will repost it. Thunderbird 2, from Mozilla. Access and manage various accounts from one place, and get great spam filtering.

Copyright © 2007-8 Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

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January 30, 2008 Posted by | advice, Apple, computers, encrypting files, how to, PC, security, tech, Windows | , , , , , , | 3 Comments