Don’t Freak Out If You Get Blackmail Spam Containing an Old Password

Have you gotten an email message whose Subject line says something like “Change your password immediately! Your account has been hacked.”? If not, it may be only a matter of time before you do. It’s a scary message, especially because it contains one of your passwords, some threats, and a demand for money. Worse, the password is likely one you’ve used in the past—how could the hacker have discovered it? Has your Mac really been taken over? Relax. There’s nothing to worry about. This “blackmail spam” has been making the rounds on the Internet recently—we’ve heard from several clients who have received it, and we’ve gotten copies too. The message purports to be from a hacker who has taken over your Mac and installed spyware that has recorded you visiting Web sites that aren’t exactly G-rated. The hacker also claims to have used your Mac’s camera to photograph you while you’re browsing said non-G-rated sites and threatens to share those pictures with your contacts and erase your drive unless you pay a ransom using Bitcoin. This blackmail spam has raised so many pulses because it backs up its claims by showing a password that you’ve used in the past. Hopefully, it’s not one that you’re still using, because it was extracted from one of the hundreds of password breaches that have occurred over the past decade. Impacted Web sites include big names such as Yahoo, LinkedIn, Adobe, Dropbox, Disqus, and Tumblr—thieves have collectively stolen over 5.5 billion accounts. It’s all too likely that some old password of yours was caught up in one of those thefts. Concerning as the message sounds, all the details other than your email address and password are completely fabricated. Your Mac has not been hacked. There is no malware spying on your every move. No pictures of you have been uploaded to a remote server. Your hard drive will not be erased. In short, you have nothing to worry about, and you should just mark the message as spam. However, if you’re still using the password that appeared in the message, that is cause for concern. It means that any automated hacking software could break into the associated account, and it must be a weak password if the bad guys were able to decrypt it from the stolen password files. Go to Have I Been Pwned and search for your email address. If it shows up for any breaches, make sure you’ve changed your password for those accounts. As always, we recommend that you create a strong, unique password for each of your Web accounts. The easiest way to do this is to rely on a password manager like 1Password or LastPass to generate a random password. Then, when you want to go back to that site, the password manager can log you in automatically. It’s easier and more secure. If you’re still concerned about your passwords, call us and we can help you get started with stronger security practices.


Three Ways to Tell If You Should Get a New iPhone Battery before 2019

Are you happy with your iPhone’s battery life? If your iPhone regularly ends up in Low Power Mode or doesn’t always make it to the end of the day without extra juice, read on to learn how to determine when it’s time for a new battery. It may be important to get to this soon because people with an iPhone 6, SE, 6s, 7, 8, or X can likely get Apple to replace the battery for just $29 through December 31st, 2018—the price will go up in 2019. (The cost is $79 for even older iPhones; non-Apple repair shops may be less expensive, but it’s generally better to stick with Apple’s parts and service providers.) That $29 price is thanks to a discount program Apple instituted in January 2018 as an apology for silently reducing the performance of the iPhone 6 and later in an effort to prevent them from shutting down due to weak batteries. See Apple’s A Message to Our Customers about iPhone Batteries and Performance for details. Here are the top three signs that you need a new battery right away.

1. Your iPhone Is Bulging

This one is obvious and possibly dangerous. If the lithium-ion battery in your iPhone is defective or damaged, it can swell due to outgassing or other chemical reactions. In the worst case, a swollen battery can catch fire or explode—it’s why airlines are concerned about batteries in luggage. If you notice your iPhone is swelling, you need to deal with it immediately. Power it off and place it in a fireproof container. Then take it to a repair professional or an Apple store right away, or call us for advice on how best to proceed.

2. Your Older iPhone Has Lousy Battery Life or Shuts Down Unexpectedly

Generally speaking, iPhone batteries last a few years without losing too much capacity. However, if your iPhone’s battery drains well before the end of the day, or if it shuts off unexpectedly, that’s a sign that you may need to replace the battery. Before you do that, go to Settings > Battery and look at battery usage by app, which shows which apps have consumed the most power for the last 24 hours or the last 10 days. Tap Show Activity to see how many minutes the app was in use. If anything near the top of that list seems odd—it’s not an app you use much or its background activity is excessive—consider force-quitting the app. (Open the app switcher by double-pressing the Home button on a Touch ID iPhone or swiping up and slightly right on a Face ID iPhone, then swipe up on the app’s thumbnail.) You might also disable that app’s switch in Settings > General > Background App Refresh. But if your iPhone is more than a few years old, it’s probably time for a new battery. Batteries are consumable items, and Apple designs the iPhone to retain up to 80% of its original capacity after 500 complete charge cycles (from 0% to 100%, even if that comes over the course of several charging sessions). Don’t suffer with a weak battery—just get it replaced.

3. An iPhone 6 or Later Feels Sluggish

Starting with iOS 10.2.1, Apple changed things so the iPhone 6 and later would reduce performance to avoid peak power demands that could overwhelm an older battery and cause the iPhone to shut down unexpectedly. Not shutting down is good, but reducing performance is bad. So if you have an iPhone 6 or later that feels poky, it may be iOS throttling performance to work around a weak battery. With iOS 11.3 or later on these iPhone models, you can go to Settings > Battery > Battery Health to learn more about your battery. iOS displays your maximum battery capacity and, under Peak Performance Capability, tells you if it has enabled performance management to avoid shutdowns. That’s a hint you need a new battery, and we’d be concerned about any maximum capacity under 90%. iOS lets you disable performance management to avoid the throttling, but it’s nuts to do that and risk unexpected shutdowns. Just replace the battery and your performance will return to normal. Apple will replace an iPhone battery for free under warranty only if its maximum capacity is under 80% and it has had fewer than 500 charge cycles. However, as previously noted, the company will replace an out-of-warranty battery in the iPhone 6 and later for $29 (plus $6.95 if shipping is required) through the end of 2018, so it’s worth taking advantage of the deal this month. In 2019, the price will go up to $49 for most iPhones and $69 for the iPhone X. So hey, don’t suffer with an iPhone that’s working poorly due to the battery!


Get Stacked: Reduce Icon Clutter in Mojave with New Desktop Stacks

There are three types of people in this world: those who keep their Mac Desktop organized, those who don’t and don’t care, and those who don’t but wish they could. If you’re sitting on the Group #3 bench–you have oodles of icons scattered willy-nilly`around your Desktop, and it bugs the bejeebers out of you—macOS 10.14 Mojave might have the solution: Stacks. Apple has used the term “Stack” before, and still does, in relation to how the icons of folders in the Dock display, either as normal folders or as a stack of icons with the first on top. Mojave’s new Stacks feature brings that visual approach to the Desktop, organizing icon clutter into neat stacks that you can expand and collapse with a click, working with the revealed icons just as you’ve always done. In the Finder, the best way to invoke Stacks is by Control-clicking the Desktop and choosing Use Stacks from the contextual menu (below left). If you first click the Desktop, you can also find the commands for Stacks in the View menu: Use Stacks and Group Stacks By. Lastly, if you open the View Options window by Control-clicking the Desktop and choosing Show View Options, you can work with Stacks by choosing from the Stack By pop-up menu (below right). Regardless, when you invoke Stacks, the Finder promptly collects all like icons—even new files, as you create them—together into one or more stacks of icons. Click once on a stack to reveal its contents below. Click again to collapse the revealed icons back into the stack. If you open multiple stacks at once, each subsequent stack takes over a spot at the top of the screen and expands down. If you don’t show disks on your Desktop, you can get a nice columnar view of what’s on your Desktop. How does Stacks figure out which files are alike? You determine that by Control-clicking the Desktop and choosing from the Group Stacks By menu. You can create three basic types of stacks:

  • Kind: These stacks are named for the type of file they contain, such as Documents, PDF Documents, Movies, Images, Screenshots, etc.
  • Date: With date-based collections, each stack’s name and contents depend on what date ranges make sense, such as Today, Previous 7 Days, Previous 30 Days, October, 2017, and so on. The date groupings can key off the date added, last opened, last modified, or created.
  • Finder tags: Tag-based stacks are useful only if you regularly assign tags to all your files.
We expect that grouping stacks by kind will work best for most people, with a few chronologically inclined folks opting for one of the date options. How can you control the order of the files within a stack? That’s trickier. Control-click the Desktop, choose Show View Options, and in the View Options window, choose from the Sort By pop-up menu. We’re partial to Name (for an alphabetical list) and Last Modified (to put the most recent file you’ve touched on top), but see what works for you. The main problem with Stacks is that it eliminates any spatial memorization you might have relied on to find icons on your Desktop. You might be able to identify the document you’re looking for by its icon, but exactly where that icon appears when you expand its stack depends on what other stacks are open or closed, what other files are in the stack, and how the stack is sorted. So if your Desktop is a mess, but you know to look in the lower-left corner for the files you’re working with, Stacks may irritate you. Luckily, you can give Stacks a try without permanently rearranging your Desktop. Just invoke it—the Command-Control-0 (zero) keyboard shortcut can be handy here—and try Stacks. If you don’t like it, another press on Command-Control-0 puts things back the way they were, with no harm done. (The only exception is that if you sort your Desktop, switching in and out of Stacks removes your Sort By setting.) Stacks may not be ideal for everyone, but many people whose Desktops are obscured by icons will appreciate how it cleans things up instantly and keeps everything neat and tidy.


So What Are All Those Stacks of Notifications in iOS 12?

It can be easy to become overwhelmed by iOS notifications, particularly if you have chatty friends or apps. In iOS 12, Apple corralled notifications by grouping them into stacks so you no longer see an endless screen of alerts. To expand a stack of notifications on either the Lock screen or in Notification Center (swipe down from the top of the screen), tap the stack. Once you’ve expanded a stack, you can tap Show Less to restack it, tap the X button to remove the entire stack, or tap any individual notification to open it. By default, iOS 12 groups notifications intelligently, which might entail separate stacks for different Messages conversations, for instance. If that’s still too much, you can go to Settings > Notifications > App Name > Notification Grouping and tap By App to collect every notification from the app into the same stack.


To Update macOS 10.14 Mojave, Use This New System Preferences Pane

For years, you’ve used the App Store app to install operating system and app updates on your Mac. That’s still true for apps, but with macOS 10.14 Mojave, Apple moved operating system updates to the new Software Update preference pane, which replaces the old App Store preference pane. Open System Preferences > Software Update to check your version of macOS and access available updates—there will be an Update Now button to click. You should also visit this pane to tell your Mac how to best handle system and app updates: Don’t select “Automatically keep my Mac up to date” because updates might come at an inconvenient time for you. Instead, click Advanced and then select “Check for updates” and “Install system data files and security updates”—they’re important. Unless you’re low on drive space, selecting “Download new updates when available” is fine, since that will make updating faster. However, keep “Install macOS updates” and “Install app updates from the App Store” off so you can choose when to update.