This ‘tech support’ scam is stealing million from seniors, including my mom

Jennifer Jolly 10 hrs ago


My 76-year old mom is an incredibly tech-savvy senior who commands her gadgets more like a Millennial than someone born the same year the ballpoint pen was invented. She also has an array of built-in tech support experts all around her — including me — her own daughter!

text, email: An example of an "Apple Support Scam" similar to the one the author's mom received on her MacBook Pro.© Malwarebytes An example of an “Apple Support Scam” similar to the one the author’s mom received on her MacBook Pro.

Still, when a giant yellow “alert” covered half of her MacBook Pro screen a few weeks ago, warning her that hackers had taken control of her device and to call the “Apple Support” number on the screen immediately or else…she did just that. But the real danger wasn’t a virus on her computer, it was the man who answered on the other end of the phone.

A new version of the old tech support scam

“I’m so embarrassed,” she tells me through tears. “There was a cursor running amok on my screen. I tried to grab it, and when I couldn’t, I figured since it was happening on a Mac, it was real. I called the number on the screen, a man answered, “Apple Support,” she pauses and her voice cracks again. “You know, these people are very good at what they do.”

My mom lost $2,000 and even though she reported it to her bank right away, she’s been told there’s nothing they can do (more on this below). She feels horrible about it. I keep telling her not to feel bad. She’s the victim of the most successful online fraud against seniors in America today — a new version of the “tech support” scam — that’s bilked people out of billions of dollars for the last several years.

What’s new is how scammers are targeting more people over the age of 60 online than by phone, according to an October 2020 report from the Federal Trade Commission. This coincides with the pandemic and more people of all ages spending more time in the digital world. The FTC also reports fraud losses totaled $388 million through the third quarter of 2020, a number that’s up 23% from 2019.

It’s gotten so bad, Microsoft and Apple now warn people about various iterations of this scam on their websites. The FTC, FBI, and AARP are also trying to get the word out about it. But the cyber-swindler’s tricks are evolving and becoming more convincing every day.

“If this is your first encounter with this type of sociopathology, the most dangerous thing you can do is think you’re too smart to fall for it,” warns Bob Sullivan, consumer security expert, and host of AARP’s Perfect Scam podcast. “They’re really good at these quick emotional flips and putting you in a panic state very quickly. That’s when you’re ripe for the taking.”

How it works

The scammers might call you directly on a landline or cell phone, or send a phony email, text message, calendar invite, or even direct message via social media. They may “spoof” the phone number so that it looks like a legitimate call from a trusted company, or from someone in your own area code.

In my moms’ case, the crooks initiated contact by using a scam pop-up ad via her Chrome browser. It warned that her device was compromised, hackers were controlling it, and to call the number on the screen or risk losing everything on the laptop, including her identity, passwords, and even access to her bank accounts.

An example of a scam prize alert pop up.© MalwareTips Blog An example of a scam prize alert pop up.

Fake pop-ups are fairly common — many of us have seen that scam “prize alert” message at least once in our connected lives. It most often happens if you click on a dodgy website by mistyping a URL or following a nefarious link from a spam message.

No matter how the thieves deliver the threat, the immediate result is often the same. “You panic, and want to fix it,” Sullivan explains. “If you call the number you get a really nice voice on the other end, reiterating what grave danger you’re in, but that they will, in essence, keep you from the real harm.”

Once they get you on the phone, the real hustle begins. The scammer says he’s a certified Apple (or Microsoft, or any other well-known company) technician, and offers to give you his certification number. The talk is fast, smooth, and the crook has an answer for everything.

Spear phishing, the act of sending targeted emails to get you to share financial information or passwords, can be exceptionally sophisticated. “The old-style ones had spelling and punctuation errors, but today, it has really become an art,” says Mark Pollitt, PhD, former chief of the FBI’s computer forensic unit. “They may call you by name, use your professional title, and mention a project you’re working on.” Outsmart us: Spot phishing emails by looking for incorrect or unusual URLs (hover over links to see the actual URL address), requests for personal information or money, suspicious attachments, or a message body that’s actually an image. Unless you’re 100 percent confident that a message is from someone you know, don’t open attachments or click links. Here's how to avoid the most common online scams.

“You asked a lot of good questions and at every turn, they were ready with what seemed like a sensible answer, Sullivan tells my mother directly over Zoom. “And that’s because they have practiced this, they’re running dozens of these every single day.”

The fake technician might ask you to download an app that allows them to “run a diagnostic test.” Then they pretend to spot all kinds of horrible hacks, and either offer to fix it, maybe for a price, or download more software — which likely infects your machine with malware for real. 

“He told me to download TeamViewer from [Apple’s] App Store, and that it would let him see my desktop, but not take control of it,” my mother recalled. “Then he said ‘we’re going to do some testing on your bank accounts to make sure they’re secure. We’re going to transfer some money from your savings to your checking. When that worked, he said I should transfer money to the official technician account through Zelle, which I had never heard of. But he explained that it’s part of my bank, and fraud protected just like my bank accounts and credit cards, and not to worry because it would go out and come right back in. He also said all of this service was ‘free’ from Apple.”

This is the part of the story where I put my head down on my desk and groan out loud, “Mom, why did you think this was real? Why didn’t you call me?”

“I trust Apple. I trust my [USAA] bank, and because Zelle was right there on the USAA site, I trusted that too.” The scammer did take money out of her account and put it all (she thought) right back in. He then sent her off on a wild goose chase to buy Target gift cards for some other convoluted diagnostic test, and that’s when she finally called me — five hours after first responding to the alert on her laptop.

By then a blaring alarm was going off on her laptop and she didn’t think she could turn it off. “Just shut the lid,” I said. Of course, that made the horrible siren noise stop, but she’s far from over the entire ordeal. 

graphical user interface, text, application, chat or text message: A screenshot of the app TeamViewer.© TeamViewer A screenshot of the app TeamViewer.

You have been scammed. Now what?

The first thing I had my mom do was contact USAA and report the fraud. Then, block the swindlers’ phone number.

Scammers are relentless. They kept calling back after my mom hung up, so it’s important to block the calls, and not answer any more from numbers she doesn’t recognize. (If it’s legitimate, people leave a message.)

I also had her change all of her passwords, report the scam to several authorities including the FTC and FBI, back up her files, and do a full reset and restore of her MacBook, iPhone, and iPad.

Some people suggest running additional anti-virus software too. “You can make an appointment at an Apple Store or contact Apple Support online, tell them what happened, and see if there are any additional precautions they suggest,” Sullivan said. 

The next day, while monitoring her bank accounts, she saw that three of the five Zelle money transfers were returned. But $2,000 is still missing.

USAA told her there is nothing they could do because she had authorized the transactions through Zelle. She contacted Zelle, and they too told her she won’t get her money back.

“We caution consumers in all of our marketing and consumer education,” says Meghan Fintland, a spokesperson for Zelle we contacted for this story. “Zelle is only to be used to pay people you know and trust. Use it like you would cash because once you send the money, it is gone in minutes and you can’t get it back.”

“I am the head of Fraud and Central Operations for USAA Bank, and my parents have fallen victim,” Stacey Nash, SVP, Bank Fraud Management, and Operations wrote to me via email. “Elder financial abuse is something we train to detect and do awareness campaigns to prevent. It can happen to anyone, but it’s particularly disheartening when it’s your elderly family member.”

“It’s my fault for being too trusting I guess,” my mom says. “Maybe it’s a generational thing. I don’t know. I’m sure $2,000 doesn’t seem like a lot of money to some people, but it’s a lot for us. I just hope sharing this keeps someone else from getting scammed.”

How to keep from getting scammed

Apple and Microsoft walk you through the do’s and don’ts of this tech support scam and other popular frauds on their sites. AARP offers a class in spotting scams and has a whole webpage warning people of the dangers. The best advice includes:

  • Apple, Microsoft, and other reputable tech companies do not contact customers about “tech support,” unless the customer initiates communication — period.
  • If a pop-up or error message appears with a phone number, don’t call the number. Error and warning messages never include phone numbers.
  • If you get a tech support scam pop-up, close the browser. On a Windows PC, press Control-Alt-Delete to bring up the Task Manager. On a Mac, click on the Apple icon in the upper left corner of your screen and use the Force Quit command.
  • Never pay for tech support or other services with a money-transfer app, gift card, cash-reload card, or wire transfer. 
  • If you get a call, don’t answer. If you answer, hang up, and block the call. Once scammers know they reached a working number, you become a recurring target. One of the most common scams after you engage with cyber-crooks over fraudulent service— is the “refund scam.”
  • Never trust any company — tech or otherwise — requesting personal or financial information.
  • Keep your security software, browser, and operating system up to date, and consider using your browser’s pop-up blocker.

Last, but not least, remember when we were taught to stop, drop, and roll, if our clothes catch on fire? Sullivan says it’s a great rule of thumb to keep from getting burned by modern scams too. “Whenever you’re in one of those moments where you think, ‘Oh my God, something terrible might be happening,’ stop what you’re doing. Drop the mouse, and roll your chair away from the desk.”

Then, call someone you trust. Like your daughter.

Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech columnist and host of USA TODAY’s digital video show TECHNOW. Email her at jj@techish.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JenniferJolly.

The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: This ‘tech support’ scam is stealing million from seniors, including my mom

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How to update Windows 10 when you’re low on free space

graphical user interface© Provided by Windows Central

Whether you use Windows 10 on a tablet or laptop with limited storage, or you have managed to fill up your hard drive, the lack of available space doesn’t mean you can’t upgrade to a newer version. The truth is, you can install new releases of Windows 10 on virtually any drive. You just need a pair of USB flash drives.

Although there is a feature known as “reserved storage” to set aside a percentage of available storage to avoid problems during updates, it’s not available on every installation, which means that you’ll still need to use this workaround in many cases to proceed with the upgrade.

In this Windows 10 guide, we’ll walk you through a few easy steps to install a new Windows 10 update on devices with low disk space.

How to install new versions of Windows 10 on low storage devices

The process to install a new version of Windows 10 on a device with limited storage is straightforward. You’ll only need to connect an external drive with enough storage and bootable media.

Hardware requirements:

Before you can install Windows 10 on a device with low free storage space, you will need a few things:

Create a Windows 10 installation flash drive

This process requires a USB flash drive with the latest installation files of Windows 10, which you can create using the Microsoft Media Creation Tool.

To create an installation media, connect a USB flash drive to the secondary computer, and use these steps:

  1. Open Windows 10 download page.
  2. Under the “Create Windows 10 installation media” section, click the Download tool now button to save the file on the device.
  3. Double-click the MediaCreationToolxxxx.exe file to launch the tool.
  4. Click the Accept button to agree to the terms.
  5. Select the Create installation media (USB flash drive, DVD, or ISO file) for another PC option.

    graphical user interface, application, Word© Provided by Windows Central

  6. Click the Next button.
  7. (Optional) Clear the Use the recommended options for this PC option.
  8. Select the correct language, architecture, and edition of Windows 10.

    graphical user interface, application© Provided by Windows Central

  9. Click the Next button.
  10. Select the USB flash drive option.

    graphical user interface, text, application, Word© Provided by Windows Central

  11. Click the Next button
  12. Select the USB flash drive (or click the “Refresh drive list” option to make it available).

    graphical user interface, text, application, email© Provided by Windows Central

  13. Click the Next button.
  14. Click the Finish button.

Once you complete the steps, the tool will download the files and create an installer with the latest installation files, which you can then use to upgrade a device with limited storage capacity.

Install a new version of Windows 10 from USB flash drive

To install a new release of Windows 10 on a device with limited capacity, use these steps:

  1. Connect the USB OTG cable or the USB hub to the computer to be upgraded (as necessary).
  2. Connect both the USB flash drive with the Windows 10 installation files and the other empty USB flash drive.
  3. Open File Explorer.

    Quick tip: You can quickly open File Explorer from the Start menu or using the Windows key + E keyboard shortcut.

  4. Select the This PC tab from the left pane.

  5. Under the “Devices and drives” section, double-click the USB flash drive with the installation files.
  6. Double-click the setup.exe file to launch the Windows 10 setup.

    graphical user interface, application© Provided by Windows Central

  7. Click the Next button.

    graphical user interface, text, application, email© Provided by Windows Central

  8. Click the Accept button.
  9. Under the “Windows needs space to update” section, use the “External Storage Device” drop-down menu and select the empty USB flash drive.

    graphical user interface, text, application, email© Provided by Windows Central

    Quick tip: Windows 10 also allows you to use a secondary hard drive if available and if it has enough available space.

  10. Click the Next button.
  11. Click the Open button for “Recycle Bin,” “Downloads,” and “Storage Use” to free up space on the device to continue with the installation (if applicable).

    Quick note: Although you can use an external drive for temporary installation storage, the primary hard drive still needs some minimum room to proceed with the upgrade. If the options offered by the setup is not enough, you may be able to clear up more space with these instructions, or you can also use the Compact OS tool (see below).

  12. Click the Refresh button after clearing some storage.

    graphical user interface, text, application, email© Provided by Windows Central

  13. Select the Keep personal files and apps option (if applicable).
  14. Click the Next button.
  15. Click the Install button.

    graphical user interface, text, application, email© Provided by Windows Central

  16. Continue the on-screen instructions to complete the installation process (if applicable).

After you complete the steps, the upgrade process will complete successfully without the need to go through the out-of-box experience (OOBE) since this is technically an upgrade.

Shrink current setup (optional)

If the device still needs more space, you can also use “Compact OS,” a command-line tool designed to compress and reduce the footprint of the Windows 10 installation and apps on devices with limited storage.

Warning: This is a friendly reminder that modifying system files are risky, and it can cause irreversible damage to your installation if you do not do it correctly. It is recommended to make a temporary full backup of your PC before proceeding.

To shrink the size of the Windows 10 setup, use these steps:

  1. Open Start.
  2. Search for Command Prompt, right-click the top result, and select the Run as administrator option.
  3. Type the following command to compress the installation of Windows 10 and press Enter:

    compact.exe /compactOS:always

    graphical user interface, text© Provided by Windows Central

After you complete the steps, the process will reclaim around 2GB of storage without affecting performance significantly.

When the feature is no longer needed, you can always revert the changes using the exact instructions, but on step No. 3, make sure to use the compact.exe /compactOS:never command.

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Windows 10: You need to try these 3 new features

The latest major Windows 10  update began rolling out to desktops, laptops and two-in-ones in late October, and should be available for you to download now. (Learn how to download the Windows 10 October 2020 Update here. If you still haven’t upgraded from Windows 7 , you may be able to use this trick to download Windows 10 free, too.) Once you’ve updated your device, you’ll find a few important new features that will help you get the most out of the new operating system.

a laptop computer sitting on top of a table: Sarah Tew/CNET© Provided by CNET Sarah Tew/CNETgraphical user interface, application: The new Start menu will change the look of the tiles.© Microsoft

The new Start menu will change the look of the tiles.

Upgrading as soon as the update is available to you will make your computing life easier and more secure. And at this point, as many of us are still spending more time at home on our computers for work or play, every little thing that can make your experience better is a win in our book. Plus, updating will prepare you for the upcoming Windows 10 spring 2021 update, which appears to be setting the stage for bigger changes in the future.

Here are three of the best new features in the Windows 10 October 2020 Update (also known as version 20H2), and how to use them.

1. Microsoft Edge browser brings privacy improvements

logo, company name: Microsoft Edge gets new privacy features to help you block sites from tracking you for advertising. Illustration by Stephen Shankland/CNET© Provided by CNET Microsoft Edge gets new privacy features to help you block sites from tracking you for advertising. Illustration by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Windows 10 Version 20H2 is the first to come with the revamped Microsoft Edge browser installed by default. The browser is now built on Chromium, Google’s open-source foundation for the Chrome browser, which makes it compatible with more websites than the old version was.

There are other benefits, too. The new Edge browser includes a privacy feature that tries to block sites that track you online — similar to Mozilla’s Firefox browser. And a feature called Collections lets you more easily gather information from different websites as you’re doing research.

Video player from: YouTube (Privacy Policy, Terms)

How to use the new Edge browser privacy settings: You’ll use the new Edge browser in largely the same way you would any other browser. Navigate to the logo on your Taskbar or from the Start menu — the icon is a circular crashing wave tinted blue, green and aqua, similar to the old blue Internet Explorer “e” icon.

To set up your privacy features, go to Settings > Privacy and services. You’ll see three options for tracking prevention: basic (allows most trackers), balanced (blocks trackers from sites you haven’t visited — Microsoft recommends this one) and Strict (blocks a majority of trackers from all sites).

To check your privacy settings on the fly when you’re using the browser, click the lock icon to the left of the search bar. A box will appear letting you know if your connection is secure, with options to check the site certificate, cookies in use and site permissions. You can also toggle Tracking Prevention on or off, and manage the setting for all sites you visit. If it’s set to on, you’ll see the number of trackers that the browser has blocked.

How to use the Edge browser Collections feature: Once you’ve navigated to a page you’d like to save, click the icon that looks like a “+” in a box, to the right of the search bar. This will open the Collections panel to the right of your screen. Click Start new collection, and rename it to whatever you’d like. You can click Add current page to save the webpage you’re on. You can also click and drag an image from the page into the collection, as well as select and drag text, and add your own notes too. To export your collection to Word or Excel, click the three-dot share and more icon at the top of the collection.

2. Customize your new Start menu

graphical user interface, application: The new Start menu will change the look of the tiles. Microsoft© Provided by CNET The new Start menu will change the look of the tiles. Microsoft

The classic Windows Start menu gets a refresh in the October 2020 Update. The new design is more streamlined, and replaces the solid color backplates behind the logos in your apps list with partially transparent backgrounds, so the icons stand out more. The colors will also change depending on if you’re running light or dark mode.

How to customize the new Start menu: If you want to add an accent color so your tiles match your desktop theme, you can go to Settings > Personalization > Color and enable the accent color on Start, Taskbar and action center.

Read more at TechRepublic: 20 pro tips to make Windows 10 work the way you want (free PDF)

3. Open all of your tabs at once

graphical user interface, website: See all of your tabs at once by pressing Alt + Tab. Microsoft© Provided by CNET See all of your tabs at once by pressing Alt + Tab. Microsoft

With the update, you’ll be able to open all of your tabs in Edge with a simple command, instead of just the active one in each browser window. This makes it easier to get a full view of every window you have open, instead of just one. You’ll also be able to configure it to show only your last three or five tabs, or turn it off completely. However, it only works with the Edge browser, at least for now.

Video player from: YouTube (Privacy Policy, Terms)

How to customize your tabs: To open all tabs in Edge at once, press Alt plus Tab. To configure your tab settings or turn off the feature, go to Settings > System > Multitasking. You’ll see a drop-down menu with options for what Alt plus Tab can do.

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Back up your Windows PC: 2 ways to make sure you never lose a file

It’s far too easy to ignore the Windows prompts reminding you to create a backup of your PC. I’ve done it many times. Most of my files are backed up to some form of cloud storage, be it OneDrive or iCloud Drive. However, those files aren’t everything I have on a PC. There are settings, applications along with other odds and ends that aren’t backed up.

a laptop computer sitting on top of a table: Make sure your files are backed up at all times. It doesn't take a lot of time. Ian Knighton/CNET© Provided by CNET Make sure your files are backed up at all times. It doesn’t take a lot of time. Ian Knighton/CNETa close up of a laptop© Matt Elliott/CNET

If my PC were to stop working right now, I’d still have to set it up from scratch. I’d have my files, sure, but I’d spend a lot of time installing apps and getting everything back to how it was. Windows provides two different ways to back up your PC. One of those methods creates copies of the files you care about most, allowing you to revert to an older copy of a file if, for example, you accidentally delete something or make a mistake.

Below I’ll walk you through how to set up routine backups of your most important files, as well as how to create a complete copy of your system in its current state. For either method, you’ll need an external hard drive or SSD. The unofficial rule for the amount of storage a backup drive should have is 1.5-2 times the size of your computer’s storage. So, if your Windows 10 laptop has 256GB of storage, you’d want a backup drive with 512GB of space. Not sure where to start when it comes to picking out a drive? We happen to have a list of our top recommendations.

text: Turning on the built-in back up tool in Windows 10 only takes a few clicks. Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET© Provided by CNET Turning on the built-in back up tool in Windows 10 only takes a few clicks. Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Back up your files every hour

Windows 10 has a built-in tool that will back up files and documents on your behalf, every hour in the background, all without you knowing it’s even happening while you continue to use your computer. To set it up, plug your external drive into the PC, and then click the Start button then the Settings gear. Next, click Update & Security followed by Backup in the list of options on the left-hand side of the window.

Select Add a drive and then select the external drive you just plugged into your PC. If you want to stop there, you can. Windows will create a folder on that drive and start automatically backing up your files.

I suggest taking a few minutes to make sure Windows is backing up the folders you care about and removing any folders you don’t care about. To do that, click More Options that’s located just underneath the Automatically back up my files button.

There you’ll find a list of all the folders that Windows is monitoring and copying to your external drive. You can add or remove any of those folders, change how frequently you want Windows to back up your files, and even set how long you want backups to be saved. I recommend switching the Keep my backups option to Until space is needed. That way, when your external drive is full, Windows will delete the oldest backups to make room for new backups. Otherwise, it would simply stop creating backups.

To restore any files or folders from a backup, scroll to the bottom of the More options page and select Restore files from a current backup.

an open laptop computer sitting on top of a wooden table: A system image might be the way to go if you don't want to mess with setting everything back up. Ian Knighton/CNET© Provided by CNET A system image might be the way to go if you don’t want to mess with setting everything back up. Ian Knighton/CNET

Create an exact copy of your Windows PC

The other option you have when it comes to backing up your PC is to create what’s called a system image of your computer as it is right now. The image will include every app, setting, file or folder; all of it.

The benefit of using this method is that if your PC crashes and you have to set it all up again, you only need to restore the system image and you’re back in action. The downside is that the image you create is from that specific moment in time, so if it’s been awhile since you last created an image, you’ll lose any changed settings, newly installed apps and files you aren’t storing in a cloud service or backing up to a different external drive.

You could create a system image once a month, or every few months on the same drive you’re backing up files to, as long as it has enough space.

graphical user interface, application: A system image reflects a specific moment in time for your PC. Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET© Provided by CNET A system image reflects a specific moment in time for your PC. Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Plug in your external drive before creating the backup image. Then open the Control Panel by clicking on the start button then typing control panel. With the Control Panel opened, go to System and Security > Backup and Restore (Windows 7 ) > Create a system image on the left side of the window.

You’re then asked where you want to save the backup image; select your external drive from the On a hard disk dropdown. If your PC has a DVD-RW drive, you can use that along with blank DVDs to store the system image if you’d prefer. Click Next after selecting the backup location, followed by Start backup.

It can take a while to create the image, depending on how much data is stored on your system. Once you start it, you can still use your computer, or you can start it right before you go to bed and it’ll be done in the morning. After it’s complete, you’ll be asked if you want to create a system repair disc. You can skip this option, especially if your desktop or laptop doesn’t have a CD ROM drive.

Should you need to restore your system, you can use the image you just created or, if needed, you can create a Windows 10 boot drive on a USB thumb drive.

To use your system image to restore your PC, open the Settings app and go to Update & Security > Recovery. In the Advanced startup section, click the Restart now button. When your PC restarts, go to Troubleshoot > Advanced Options > System Image Recovery and follow the instructions to restore your PC using the system image you created.

With your PC now fully backed up, take a few minutes to learn about Windows 10 features that are better than Windows 7, secret Windows 10 features, and how to turn your old PC into cash.

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Google proved me right, Chrome was a bloated memory hog

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes 7 hrs ago


In early March, I listed Google Chrome’s insatiable appetite for RAM and battery life as a good reason to dump it in favor of whatever stock browser that comes with your operating system.

a circuit board© ZDNet

Google Chrome fans were up in arms (yes, browsers have fans), calling my claims fabricated and asking me to back up my claims.

I didn’t have to. Google did the work for me.

Chrome version 89 dropped mid-March, promising “significant memory savings” on Windows 10, improved memory handling on macOS, and improved performance on Android.

And these weren’t small improvements, based on Google’s own data.

On Windows 10, Chrome 89 brought with it a 22% memory savings in the browser process, 8% in the renderer, and 3% in the GPU, as well as reclaiming up to 100MiB per tab by discarding memory from the foreground tab not currently being used.

macOS users will see 8% memory savings and up to a 65% improvement on the Apple Energy Impact score.

Android users will get up to 5% improvement in memory usage, 7.5% faster startup times, and up to 2% faster page loads.

As I said, these are significant improvements.

But is Chrome still a bloated memory hog?

I’ve been running Chrome 89 on Windows 10, macOS, and Android, and while there is an improvement in memory usage and responsiveness, the most noticeable change I’ve see is power usage on macOS laptops. While it’s tricky to factor in workloads during real-world usage, I’d estimate that I’m getting 30 minutes more battery life from version 89 compared to 88.

I’ve also felt increased responsiveness on Windows 10, but under heavy load it feels like Chrome reverts back to its memory-hogging ways.

The smaller improvements on Android also back up my assertion that the best, most optimized browser for any platform is the stock browser.

A better Google Chrome is a good thing, but it doesn’t change the fact that Google is still playing catch-up. And since Google has developed a fan base, and turned the browser into a mini platform that users feel is hard to get away from, Chrome doesn’t really need to be the best.

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A guide to network security keys, the password for your Wi-Fi network

a woman looking at a laptop: A network security key is essentially a password designed to unlock a Wi-Fi network. Morsa Images/Getty Images© Morsa Images/Getty Images A network security key is essentially a password designed to unlock a Wi-Fi network. Morsa Images/Getty Images

  • A network security key is basically your Wi-Fi password – it’s the encryption key that protects your internet.
  • There are three different kinds of network security keys: WEP, WPA, and WPA2, each more secure than the last.
  • The type of security key you choose, along with how strong your password is, determines how safe your network is from hackers.
  • If you’re new to setting up or troubleshooting your Wi-Fi connection, you might be wondering what a network security key is. Luckily, it’s not as confusing as it sounds – your network security key is essentially just your Wi-Fi password.

Of course, it’s not actually that simple – if it were, we wouldn’t need another word for it. A network security key is a specific type of password that allows your Wi-Fi router to talk to the device you’re using, and allows you to use the internet securely.

What to know about network security keys

Network security keys have become more sophisticated over time, and there are now a few different kinds that work a few different ways. Knowing what kind of network key your router uses can be important for setting it up and solving issues.

There are three common types of network security keys.

Network security key types

WEP

This kind of security key, short for Wired Equivalent Privacy, was ratified as a security standard in 1999 as a way for wireless networks to have a similar level of protection as a wired network. Although the WEP standard was essentially “retired” in 2004, there’s still the option to use it.

Despite WEP’s advancements – progressing from 64- to 128- and 256-bit encryption – its security flaws were exposed as computers became more powerful, putting WEP at constant risk since its security key can be easily cracked with downloadable software.

Still, WEPs remain in use due to its backward compatibility with older devices, and many Wi-Fi devices allow it as a network option. However, WEPs are the least secure of the network types, leaving your network vulnerable to cyberattacks.

WPA and WPA2

“Wi-Fi Protected Access” arrived in 2003 as an answer to the vulnerabilities exposed in WEP networks. Its advancements included security checks to protect data from being intercepted by hackers.

However, when WPA rolled out, it still had issues. These were addressed by the WPA2 standard, which took over in 2006. WPA2’s improved on its predecessor in several ways, including by requiring the use of the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES, which the US government uses to protect classified data). Both are considered more secure upgrades to previous methods by improving encryption and authentication.

WPA2’s known vulnerabilities are almost exclusive to large business-level networks, and shouldn’t concern to home network users. At every instance, you should choose WPA2 for your personal Wi-Fi access over the outdated and vulnerable methods.

graphical user interface, application: On the page you use to set up your Wi-Fi password, you'll see options to pick your security protocol. William Antonelli/Insider© William Antonelli/Insider On the page you use to set up your Wi-Fi password, you’ll see options to pick your security protocol. William Antonelli/Insider

How to find your network security key

Depending on which security key you go with, your password might be located in a couple different places – most of the time, default WEP keys can be found on a piece of paper given to you by the network owner with the router. Default WPA/WPA2 keys are usually printed somewhere on the side of your router, often on a sticker.

While setting up your router, you should create a new password so that you can remember it more easily. You can also go in and change your Wi-Fi password at any time.

a laptop computer sitting on top of a wooden table: When setting up a new router, always change the password. Kittichai Boonpong/EyeEm/Getty Images© Kittichai Boonpong/EyeEm/Getty Images When setting up a new router, always change the password. Kittichai Boonpong/EyeEm/Getty Images

If you’ve forgotten your Wi-Fi password, it’s not the end of the world. As long as your computer is already connected to the router, you can pull the password up that way instead – this works on a Mac or on a PC. You can also share access with others across Apple devices, whether you’re using a Mac or an iPhone.

How to create a strong password

Network security keys are an important part of keeping your network protected – and in a world where we do most of our business online, that protection is more important than ever.

Making sure you select the highest security network you can is part of that, but another part is selecting a good password. Experts say that a strong password has as many of the following qualities as possible:

  • Is 12 characters or longer (the longer the better)
  • Uses a mix of numbers, letters, and symbols
  • Doesn’t use common substitutions (like zero for “O,” $ for “S,” et cetera)
  • Doesn’t use an easy keyboard path (like “asdfjkl,” “qwerty,” or 123456)

a close up of a clock: Picking a proper password is incredibly important. Thomas Trutschel/Getty Images© Thomas Trutschel/Getty Images Picking a proper password is incredibly important. Thomas Trutschel/Getty Images

One of the most highly recommended ways to create a secure password is to make it a random combination of words that one might not usually find together, or else a simple sentence. For example, security experts would likely say that “PeanutButterManPants” and “PutThatDownJordan” are both strong passwords. Add some numbers or symbols and you have one of the best possible defenses against hackers.

What is a hotspot? How to connect to a public Wi-Fi hotspot, or set up your own personal hotspotWhat is mesh Wi-Fi? Here’s what you need to know about the system that extends your Wi-Fi networkHow to use public Wi-Fi networks safely, and protect your data and informationHow to share your Wi-Fi password from your Mac so guests can automatically connect to the internet

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How to type special characters on a Windows PC

Here’s the situation: you’re typing a report for work, and you suddenly have to write the phrase “Jones née Berkowitz.” Or you are adding a phrase in Spanish and need to use the word “años.” How do you add the special characters to the letters?

an open laptop computer sitting on top of a keyboard© Photo by Monica Chin / The Verge

Special characters (also known as diacritical marks) may be more common in certain languages, but there are plenty of circumstances in which English speakers may need to use them. But because they are so rare in English, native English speakers may not have learned how to add those marks to documents, emails, or other writings. It’s not difficult to add them to your Windows document, although it’s not quite as smooth an operation as on a Mac, where all you have to do is hold the appropriate key down. (In fact, once upon a time, you would have had to look up the symbol character codes…)

Use the touch keyboard

The easiest way to add diacritical marks to a document is to enable the Windows touch keyboard. (Thanks to Ed Bott from ZDNet for first leading me to this method.) The touch keyboard automatically appears if you’re using a Windows tablet or if you’re using a PC in tablet mode. If you don’t have a touchscreen, you can use the keyboard icon that appears in the taskbar, on the right side near the date. Don’t see it? This is how you get it:

  • Right-click on the taskbar
  • Click on “Show touch keyboard button”

graphical user interface, text, application, Word: Click on “Show touch keyboard button.” Click on “Show touch keyboard button.”

Now, when you want to use a special character:

  • Click on the touch keyboard icon
  • The touch keyboard will appear. Long press (with your mouse button or, if you have a touchscreen, your finger) on the letter you want to use
  • You’ll now see several extra keys showing the ways you can type that letter with different symbols. Select the one you want, and it will appear on your document.
  • If you want to enter an emoji, click on the emoji key (on the left of the “space bar”)

graphical user interface, application, table: Select the special character you want, and it will appear on your document.Select the special character you want, and it will appear on your document.

Use the emoji keyboard

Another keyboard that you can access and can let you easily add special characters to your text is Windows’ emoji keyboard. Yes, it is mainly for adding emojis to your text, but it’s got other uses as well. And it’s simple to use:

  • Hold down the Windows key (the one with the Windows symbol on it) and hit the period key
  • The emoji keyboard will pop up, showing a variety of emojis. Click on the symbols tab on top (the third from the left).

calendar: The emoji keyboard also lets you access special characters.The emoji keyboard also lets you access special characters.

  • Use the menu on the bottom line to select the type of symbol you’re looking for (if you’re looking for characters to use within text, you’ll probably want to select this one: Ç). Then scroll down until you find the character you want.

Use the character map

If you’d like to try a more old-fashioned method of adding special characters to Windows, you can use the character map, which is a less polished and more complicated version of the touch keyboard but offers a similar service.

To access it on your Windows 10 system:

  • Type “character” in your search field and then select the Character Map app
  • You’ll get a pop-up map showing a bunch of special characters for a specific font. You can change the font by clicking on the drop-down font menu at the top.

graphical user interface, text, application, Word: The character map lets you access a wide variety of special characters.The character map lets you access a wide variety of special characters.

  • Click on the letter(s) or special characters that you want to use in your document and then click on the “Select” button. They’ll appear in the “Characters to copy” field.
  • Once you’ve selected all the characters you want, click on the “Copy” button and then paste the character(s) into your document

Use the US International Keyboard

If you’re an English speaker who is multilingual and uses special characters a lot, you may want to try the US International Keyboard, which maps your keyboard to more easily allow you to add special characters. (Thanks to “shiroledat” for the tip.)

First, you need to add the US International Keyboard to Windows:

  • Go to Settings > Time & Language > Language
  • Look for “Preferred languages” and (assuming you’re an English speaker in the US) click on “English (United States).” Then click on “Options.”
  • Look for the “Keyboards” section, which (if you’ve never been there before) will probably only contain a single keyboard icon labeled “US / QWERTY.” That’s the keyboard map you’re now using. Click on “Add a keyboard” just above it.
  • In the pop-up menu that appears, scroll to “United States-International / QWERTY” and click on it

graphical user interface, application: Under “Preferred languages,” click on “English (United States)” and then on “Options.”Under “Preferred languages,” click on “English (United States)” and then on “Options.”

graphical user interface, application: Click on “Add a keyboard” and look for “United States-International.”Click on “Add a keyboard” and look for “United States-International.”

Now you always have the choice of using either the standard US keyboard or the US International Keyboard. You can see which one is active in the lower-right side of your taskbar, near the date. It will either read “ENG / US” or “ENG / INTL.” You can click on that to switch from one to the other, or just hit Windows key+space bar.

a close up of a bird: Click on the icon to switch keyboards.Click on the icon to switch keyboards.

The US International Keyboard gives you two ways to add a special character:

  • Use the right-hand Alt key in combination with the appropriate letter to get one of the more common combinations. For example, Alt+e will result in: é
  • Press the symbol you want to use and then the letter you want to use it with. For example, if you first press the ~ symbol and then the “n” key, you’ll get: ñ

Washington State University has published a useful chart showing all of the symbols you can get using the US International Keyboard.

Use the Unicode value

If you look at the lower right-hand corner of the character map after you’ve chosen a letter or special character, you’ll see the word “Keystroke” followed by “Alt” and a four-digit number. This number represents the Unicode value of the symbol, and it’s the time-honored standard for adding characters.

If you use a few special characters consistently, it can be faster to simply add the character you want using your keyboard. There are several ways to do this; here are two of the easiest (each of which has its limitations):

  • Press the Alt key and then type the four-digit Unicode value. For this to work, you need to have a separate number pad on your keyboard, and the NumLock key should be enabled.
  • If you’re working with Microsoft Word, WordPad, Outlook, or another Microsoft app, you can type in the Unicode value and then type Alt-X
  • You can also press the Control key plus a symbol, and then the letter you want to accent. For example, Ctrl+’ and “e” will result in “é” — assuming you’re in a Microsoft app.

Update March 26th, 10:50AM ET: This article has been updated to add a section on using the Unicode values and the emoji keyboard.

Update March 30th, 11:15AM ET: Updated to add another way to add special characters within Microsoft apps.

Update April 1st, 9:45AM ET: Updated to add information on the US International Keyboard.

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5 Windows 10 features that are better than what you had on Windows 7

Finally made the upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10? Hopefully the answer is yes, since Microsoft stopped supporting Windows 7  over a year ago, which means devices running that OS no longer get important updates or security patches. But never fear: Learning how to navigate Windows 10 isn’t too difficult, especially if you can pinpoint all of the big differences between the new OS and the older version.

a laptop computer sitting on top of a table: Microsoft's Surface Laptop 3 runs Windows 10. Sarah Tew/CNET© Provided by CNET Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3 runs Windows 10. Sarah Tew/CNET

From tighter security to a new browser, Windows 10 has a lot to offer. Here are some of the biggest feature updates in Windows 10, compared to Windows 7.


a laptop computer sitting on top of a table: Microsoft's Surface Laptop 3 runs Windows 10.© Sarah Tew/CNET

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3 runs Windows 10.

Security improvements

Windows 10’s advanced security and continuous patches and updates are the top reason to switch to the latest version of the OS. Some of the best security features include:

  • Windows Hello: Software that uses facial recognition to unlock your machine using its webcam, as well as to unlock more than a dozen apps.
  • Microsoft Defender: The antivirus program and internet security software comes free with Windows 10.
  • Automatic updates: Unlike previous versions of the OS, Windows 10 offers automatic updates by default, to keep systems more secure. (You can turn these off if you want to, by going to Windows Update Settings > Advanced Options and changing from Automatic to another option in the drop-down menu.)

If you’re still holding on to Windows 7, at least consider these security tips to protect your Windows 7 laptop. You can also check out this full comparison of Windows 10 and Windows 7 security features from Microsoft.

a flat screen tv sitting on top of a laptop computer: Matt Elliott/CNET© Provided by CNET Matt Elliott/CNET

Start menu

Hit the familiar Windows icon at the bottom left of the screen or on your keyboard to find a list of your desktop apps and programs. Similar to the Start menu in Windows 8, the Windows 10 Start menu includes live tiles — large icons to the right of the Start menu including Mail, Calendar and Weather. You can customize these tiles with any app you like: Just open the Start menu, click All apps and find the app you want to make into a tile. Right-click it, and click Pin to Start. To remove a tile, right-click it and click Unpin from Start.

With Windows 10, you can also access a lesser-known second Start menu that helps you access important features like the Command Prompt, the Control Panel and the Task Manager much easier, either by pressing the Windows key + X or by right-clicking the Windows icon/Start button.

Cortana

Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana is available on Windows 10 PCs. Cortana acts as a personal assistant — similar to Apple’s Siri — and operates via voice command to help with tasks like scheduling and reading or summarizing your email.

Go to Start > Settings > Cortana to turn Cortana on and off, and control when and how you use the assistant. For example, toggle yes if you want Cortana to help when you say, “Hey Cortana,” and yes if you want speech and typing personalization turned on, which helps the assistant get to know your patterns.

logo, company name: The Microsoft Edge browser now runs on Chromium. Illustration by Stephen Shankland/CNET© Provided by CNET The Microsoft Edge browser now runs on Chromium. Illustration by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Edge browser

Say goodbye to Internet Explorer : With Windows 10, Microsoft introduced the Edge browser to replace the old mainstay. In January, Microsoft rolled out a new version of Edge, built on the same engine that drives Google’s Chrome browser — making it more compatible with modern websites, for a better browsing experience. You can download the new Edge browser on Windows 10 (and, technically, since it’s built on Chromium, on Windows 7 or 8 too) by going to the Microsoft Edge webpage, selecting Windows, and clicking Download.

Continuous updates

Unlike Windows 7, Microsoft continually updates Windows 10 to patch security issues and make the machines run better. This is part of Microsoft’s move to make Windows operate more as a service, with continuous updates instead of a brand-new version.

To check for updates, go to Start > Settings > Update & Security, and under Windows Update, click Check for updates.

Major feature updates come twice a year, with the most recent being the October 2020 Update. This update added some new features like a new, streamlined Start menu and the ability to personalize your Taskbar. It also includes the new Chromium-based Microsoft Edge browser instead of the legacy version for the first time.

The upcoming Windows 10 Spring 2021 update will add a few more useful new features, and also set the stage for a larger Windows 10 UI update in the future.

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The street prices of Nvidia and AMD GPUs are utterly out of control

You might have heard there’s a global semiconductor shortage going on, and that PC graphics cards in particular are nearly impossible to find. What you probably haven’t heard is that the situation has steadily been growing worse — to the point some GPUs are worth triple their MSRP.

a close up of a bicycle© Photo by Sean Hollister / The Verge

Above, you’ll see a photo of two graphics cards, the $499 Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 and the $579 AMD Radeon RX 6800. In December, I calculated that the true street price of these cards had reached $819 and $841, respectively, or $1,660 for the pair.

That very same photo now contains $2,570 worth of GPUs. That’s not the asking price, mind you; people are actually paying over $1,200 on the open market, on average, for each of these graphics cards. And that isn’t even as bad as it gets.

This past week, I ran the PS5, Xbox Series X, and each of Nvidia’s and AMD’s new graphics cards through an open-source eBay scraper tool to figure out how much they’re worth on average over a seven-day period (big thanks to data analyst Michael Driscoll), then spent a handful of hours validating the results and weeding out fakes.

TL;DR: while the PS5 and Xboxes have actually cooled off a bit, you’ll pay double, even triple for a new AMD or Nvidia GPU.

Frankly, I’m not sure which numbers are the most staggering here. Is it that the supposedly $329 RTX 3060 fetches over $800 on average, or that the RTX 3090 and 3080 are each worth $900 more than they were just three months ago? Or maybe is it that my own 3060 Ti, which I finally managed to snap up for its retail price of $399 after months of trying, could sell for $1,200 now?

I also looked at just how many of these items are actually getting sold on eBay, which can give you an idea of just how skewed the supply / demand equation is. For instance: over a seven-day period, eBay moved 5,284 PS5 consoles, and yet plenty of PS5s that were listed didn’t sell. PS5 scalping is becoming less profitable, eBay’s getting flooded, and things are slowing down.

Yet on the PC GPU side of things, it’s the opposite. Every single GPU seems to be selling unless they’re listed well above the average sale price, and there are a precious few of them to go around — just 83 of AMD’s RX 6800 and 141 of Nvidia’s RTX 3060 Ti changed hands during the same seven-day period as far as I can tell. There’s nothing here to suggest scalping will slow anytime soon.

It doesn’t help that the actual retail prices of these graphics cards have been edging northward, too. Whether it’s a reaction to the Trump tariffs or a blatant attempt to get a piece of the action, the GPUs that I actually do briefly see for sale at Amazon, Best Buy, and the Neweggs of the world are often far, far above the prices that AMD and Nvidia suggest, like an $840 RTX 3070 or a $900 RX 6800. The average list price for a $329.99 RTX 3060 was $471 on launch day. And while Newegg’s raffle originally seemed like a potentially fair way to pay retail, it’s almost become a parody now:

And yet when that $330 video card that you buy for $540 might get scalped for $830, it’s hard to be surprised when MSI and Newegg decide they want to extract a couple hundred dollars of that for themselves.

The question, as always, is when AMD and Nvidia are going to be able to produce more than a trickle of new graphics cards to address this pent-up demand, and I’m afraid the tea leaves aren’t looking particularly good. AMD’s promise of making “significantly more GPUs available” and regularly refreshing stock at its own website haven’t made a meaningful dent so far. And while Nvidia previously warned that it might take until late April for things to turn around, Digitimes now says sources at graphics card manufacturers expect Nvidia’s 30-series GPUs to stay in short supply through the third quarter of 2021.

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How to flush the DNS cache to improve network performance in Windows 10

To improve the speed and performance of your internet connection, Microsoft Windows 10 stores vital domain name resolution information in a temporary file known as the DNS cache. Under normal circumstances, this cache helps you get to your internet destination quicker by bypassing a request to an internet-based DNS server. The system usually works well.

a laptop computer sitting on top of a keyboard: Image: iStock/Bet_Noire© Provided by TechRepublic Image: iStock/Bet_Noire


a laptop computer sitting on top of a keyboard© Image: iStock/Bet_Noire

However, over time, the cache can be corrupted with faulty information which unintentionally slows your network connection down. Windows 10 gathers information from the cache first, finds its corrupted, and then makes a request to a DNS server—a notable waste of time and hit to network performance.

This how-to tutorial shows you how to flush the Windows 10 DNS file and perform some other basic maintenance so your network can reestablish verified information and improve network performance over time.

How to improve network performance in Windows 10 by flushing the DNS cache

As you use the internet on a Windows 10 PC, you build up information in the DNS cache that helps speed navigation between and among websites. However, websites inevitably change over time which can leave invalid, incorrect, or incomprehensible information in the cache. Sorting through this clutter can slow down internet access and have a detrimental impact on network performance.

By flushing the Windows 10 DNS cache, you can eliminate the clutter and reestablish a pristine cache of valid and useful information. The easiest way to accomplish this task in Windows 10 is from the command prompt.

There are several ways to get a command prompt, but the fastest way is to use the keyboard shortcut Windows key + R and then type “cmd.” But you may need to run a command prompt with administrative-level credentials. In that case, right-click the Start button and select the “admin” version of the command prompt. Either way, you should see a screen similar to Figure A.

Figure A

graphical user interface, text, application© Provided by TechRepublic

At the prompt, type this command and press Enter: ipconfig /flushdns

The command prompt should return a message stating the command was completed successfully, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

graphical user interface, text, application© Provided by TechRepublic

Initially, you may notice that navigating to familiar websites takes a bit longer but be patient. As the DNS cache repopulates with valid information, your network and internet connection speeds should improve—at least until it fills with clutter again.

Bonus network maintenance tips

Since you are at the command prompt and working on network performance, you may want to perform some other basic network maintenance.

At the prompt type this command: ipconfig /renew

This command will reset your IP address with the router and potentially resolve configuration issues.

When the command prompt returns, type this command: netsh winsock reset

This command will reset the Windows 10 Winsock protocols. This can be particularly helpful for network performance issues if your PC has been continuously connected to the network for a long time. Microsoft often changes security protocols in their Winsock software during updates and it is important to keep your internet connection up to date. This command may also require a reboot of the computer.

Periodically using these three basic commands as part of a network performance and maintenance regime can markedly improve the overall performance of your internet and network connections. Yet, for many users, these simple tools are often forgotten or ignored. Don’t let that happen to you.

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