So, How Does Malware Get on Your Computer?

No one intentionally installs an application that is going to encrypt their files until they pay a ransom, log their keystrokes and report their bank passwords to crooks in Russia, or hijack their web browser to show ads instead of the sites they want to go to. Bad guys have to trick you into going to some web site, looking at an infected message, or clicking on a link to allow them to download their toxic programs.

Basically, YOU have to give the jerks permission to infect your computer.

You’re not likely to click on a button that says, “YES, Download your malware and steal my identity!” Button Requesting Malware

So the people who want to get inside your computer send you clever, urgent messages to get you to unleash their poisonous computer code on your computer. Frankly, the inventiveness and smart marketing techniques these folks use are praiseworthy.

Here’s the invitation to be a sucker that arrived in my email yesterday:

Scam Email

Look!  My Mastercard is going to charged instantly! (A classic injection of urgency to get someone to act NOW!)

I can see the details of this instant charge — and also unleash the evil software embedded in the Word document — by simply clicking. I mean, who wouldn’t want to know why their Mastercard is about to be charged a hunk of money?

Well, probably someone like me who doesn’t have a Mastercard. But, more importantly, YOU!  Even if you have a Mastercard, you should be in the habit of NOT clicking to open attachments or follow links on emails you’re not expecting.

In this case, the scammers messed up somewhat by showing a return address of stroydom [email protected]  That’s an email address without a name, and the “.ru” means it supposedly comes from is from RUssia.  If they’d been smarter, they would have used a generic From name and spoofed the return address, something like “Sarah Jones <[email protected]>”.  Even better would have been spoofing the name and email address of someone I know, if that had access to my email address book.

Every day I get messages trying to trick me into clicking a box or a link that would instruct my computer to let the would-be hackers install their evil code on my system. Then they could take over my machine and lock up my data for ransom… or do something more subtle like watch me login to my bank’s website so that they can learn my password. Many of these attempts are stopped by my email’s spam/malware filter, but some get through.

Here’s what the latest attempt to hoodwink me reminded me:

  • Don’t click on anything in an email unless you know the person who sent the email AND you were expecting a message from them.
  • Use Chrome or other browsers who warn you if you try to go to a site on their dirty list.
  • Use up-to-date antivirus software. That will block the downloading and installation of evil programs… so long as the antivirus program knows about it.

Follow these guidelines and don’t get shocked into clicking where you should’t!

A $3,100 unexpected charge on your Mastercard? Don’t panic. And, don’t click!

The Dress’ Color and Your Website

Dress whose color people cannot agree on
Gold and White… or Blue and Black… this dress is one color for you and the other color for 50% of the population

This picture went viral when it was posted on Tumbler along with the question, “.. is this dress white and gold, or blue and black?” Everyone who viewed the dress thought that the question was silly.  For half of the people the answer was unequivocally gold and white. The other half were equally sure that the dress was blue and black.

Personally, I first saw it as gold and white.  I couldn’t understand how anyone could see anything else.  Then I came back from being in a dark room, and the picture had magically changed.  The dress was definitely blue and black.

There are great explanations of why different people see different colors.  I particularly like Wired‘s discussion of the science behind the different color perceptions.  They even analyze the strengths of the different hues in each part of the dress and come up with a “scientific” answer.

However, as a web designer, I don’t need a right or wrong, definitive color ruling. I don’t think there is a single correct answer.

The whole discussion illustrates one of the problems I explain to clients. You cannot control precisely what a visitor to your website will see.

The dress photograph shows that people simply perceive things differently.  The same swatch of color may look red to you and green to me.  The settings of our individual monitors may differ.  The background images on our monitors may contain different colors that affect our judgements.  Our room lighting may be lighter or darker, or more blue or yellow. Or, our minds just interpret colors differently.

All of these variables make it extremely difficult (i.e., impossible) to develop a web page that looks the same to all visitors.

This doesn’t mean that you cannot design a clean, clear site that 99% of visitors find pleasing.  It just means that sometimes you have to breathe deeply and give up the desire to control the entire user experience.

I have spent hours making minor color adjustments for some clients — architects and designers are particularly particular.  They get angry because a color that looked like a perfect blue on their office screens appears too purple when they get home.  I explain that the monitors’ settings, ambient lighting, and even the viewer’s mood disrupt a uniform experience.  Colors and looks on the Internet are not as controllable as they are on a printed page.  Often, the client acts like I am trying to shirk from a difficult, but possible, task!

So, I love the picture of dress.  If you cannot give up absolute control of the user experience on your site, I can always ask if you want me to use a gold and white combination like the one the dress. Or, is that a blue and black combo?!

Is Google+ Worth the Effort?

A client found a YouTube video extolling the virtues of Google+ for businesses. He wanted to know if he should invest time and energy in setting himself up on Google+.

The video he watched is long and the people in the video are supernaturally pleased with Google+  !    If you have 43 minutes, go for it…

The clip was posted on YouTube in 2013, and the predictions for the success of G+ were not accurate.  It is not the social media place to be, if you’re only going to do one spot.  The #1 place remains Facebook and there are many contenders that I think of as equal of G+ (LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.).

In fact, for the past 9 months I have heard rumors that Google is about to announce the end of G+ as we know it. I don’t know if they will kill G+… there really isn’t a need for them to admit failure.  But, G+ failed in its intention to take the dominant position in social media. So, posting to G+ just isn’t required social media marketing.

The video also touts the instant availability in Google searches of what you post to G+. Having your comments quickly available is great, but I have seen entries in this blog and changes to HTML pages show up the same day in Google.  So, using G+ doesn’t feel like an overwhelming advantage in becoming visible.

Benefits aside, the real issue in mounting a G+ presence is the cost. One of the commentators said that you should do 30 minutes of G+ before you start your business day and another 30 minutes at the end.  I wish I had that time for social media!  Do you want to invest in that much time?  30 minutes a week taxes a lot of business owners.

So, I don’t know whether investing in G+ is worth it for small businesses.  I am not saying no, but I suspect that there is a diminishing returns. Spending a lot of time creating content just for G+ doesn’t seem logical.  Instead, create a Google+ business page that puts you on the map. Then, include G+ in the list of social media sites you feed your comments to using Hootsuite or other posting app.

If you want to do more, them commit to a limited trial period of posting with a time budget.  After 30, 60, or 90 days, do you see any increase in rankings, sales, or even engagement with clients? Let me know if the extra effort got you enough business!

The Tale of Two Offers

Black Friday Deals!  Renewal Rates for Loyal Subscribers! Special Price for Returning Customers!

It’s now officially the season for marketing hype on steroids.  But as Sergeant Phil Esterhaus warned us every week on Hill Street Blues, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”

Just look at the two New Yorker pricing pages below.

Screen prints of New Yorker web page prices
Two Prices for New Yorker Subscriptions

I reached the top page by clicking on an email sent to me, telling me that I was a valuable customer, and inviting me to renew my gift subscriptions at a special rate. The offer is $69.99 for the first gift and $59.99 for each additional gift.

The bottom offer is one I found using a different web browser and going to the New Yorker website as if I’d never subscribed before.  That page let me have two subscriptions for $69.99.  I called the contact number on the sales page and the representative let me renew my gifts for the price offered to new customers. I saved $59.99 by not blindly renewing at my special, valued customer rate.

It’s not only the New Yorker that  charges you more if they know you’ve used their product before.  Most, if not all, companies track your relationship with them and will raise the prices for people that they think they’ve already hooked.  For example, Quicken will display a come-on for its latest version about once a year.  The page you go when you click from the ad in the application for your upgrade usually displays a price that’s more than if you went to Quicken yourself.

Unfortunately, the use of tracking cookies and other techniques makes it hard to show up on website as a virgin who deserves the most attractive pricing.  But, you should try.

Here are some tips to keep you from being a dearly beloved, overpaying repeat customer:

  • Don’t sign up for any renewal or update or anything from an offer you get via email or from within an application.
  • Visit the business’ homepage with a browser that you don’t normally use.  That way there won’t be cookies or other evidence of your association with that business which would lead their programs

Keep enjoying your favorite products and services.  Keep giving them as holiday gifts, too.  Just make sure you shop before you buy!

Embracing The “M” Word

Yes, I maintain websites after I’ve designed them. Yes, I maintain websites designed by other people.

Apparently a lot web designers want to just that: design websites.  They don’t want to do minor changes or, God forbid, touch a site someone else originally created.

Many of the calls I get are from tired business owners who want to change some things in their site, but they don’t need — or want to pay for — a complete overhaul. They report problems finding someone who can help them.

Sometimes their original web designer has found a full-time graphics design job (a lot of web designers seem to be frustrated or underemployed graphic designers).  Other times the business owners report that their original designer doesn’t do maintenance.

I think we web designers have to be available to make changes and tweaks to our customers’ pages.  Phone numbers change, photos get outdated,  new products come out, business hours expand!  All of these updates belong on your website.

Sometimes the business owner needs more substantial changes. They want to add a video or a series of pages about new things they’re doing.  The owner wants to update their site, but they aren’t up for a total re-do!

I get asked to help with all sorts of websites, even sites created on WordPress or other platforms that supposedly allow non-technical users to update content. WordPress, Joomla, and proprietary systems by Wix, GoDaddy, and others all require some computer skills.  Although they do not require special software on your computer, these tools take time to learn and tame.  Many owners are too busy running their business to spend hours coming up to speed and implementing changes.  I am happy that they call me!

Doing maintenance may not be as fun as creating an eye-catching design from scratch. And, when I work on a site that someone else created, I have to adjust to whatever style that person had.  I also have to find out where they have put the images, layouts, and styles I’m being asked to use and modify.  And, of course, the original designer is never as organized and clear as I am!

Still, I am happy to do maintenance.  I have done one-time updates, and I have some clients whose sites I change several times a month like Theatre Rhinoceros, a San Francisco theater company.  I like making all of them reflect the owner’s current activities.