Patrick Marshall answers your personal technology questions each week.
Q: We are almost 300 seniors living in a senior community. The management provides us with wireless connectivity throughout the complex. They have three full-time IT personnel monitoring all our information technology capabilities. However, we have one resident who complains that we are grossly insecure and that anyone could easily break into our internet accounts. This is not obvious to anyone even with an IT degree. We give our networks strong passwords and enjoy our internet connectivity.
The question is, how hard is it really for someone to crack our passwords and get control of our data? I see a lot of password cracking software on the internet. Do these really work that easily? What else do we need to do to feel secure?
— Dick Hawes
A: First of all, security is a relative thing. There is no absolute security. Even highly secured government servers have been hacked. Here are my rules for (relatively) safe computing:
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1. Never send any sensitive information — passwords, banking information, confidential emails — over a public Wi-Fi connection unless you’re running a virtual private network. VPNs encrypt all transmissions so that even if your communications are intercepted, they will be unreadable.
2. If you have a personal Wi-Fi network, make sure that you password-protect access, and use long passwords that include special characters, such as ampersands and exclamation marks.
3. Since, as you suspect, Wi-Fi passwords can be cracked relatively easily, especially if users don’t employ long passwords with special characters, I also recommend that the station identifier — the name of the Wi-Fi network — not be broadcast. A hacker would have to know the name of the Wi-Fi network before being able to “see” it.
But the bottom line is this: How much do you care about the security of what you’re doing on the internet? If you’re doing banking and sending confidential emails, you may want to subscribe to a VPN service, which will cost under $100 per year. If you’re not sending sensitive information, I believe you can save those dollars as long as your community’s network is password protected.
Q: I have two Outlook 365 questions. First, I have Outlook 365 on my laptop with Windows 7 and on my desktop with Windows 10. On my laptop, my emails can be separated into “Focused” and “Other.” This is a feature I really like since I can have my important emails automatically put into “Focused.” However, on my desktop, I have not found a way to do this.
My second question is philosophical. On my desktop, I can create folders for saved emails either under “Inbox” or under “Personal Folders.” Is there a preferred place to save emails? I just noticed that my laptop Outlook does not have a “Personal Folders.” Is this due to how Outlook was set up?
— John Reeves
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A: There are many different Outlook apps, so it can definitely get confusing. On my Android phone, I’m running the Outlook mobile app, which supports the focused inbox — a feature that separates your inbox into a “focused” folder of important emails and an “other” folder of mostly commercial e-mails. On my laptop I’m running the Outlook 2016 program provided with my Office 2016 subscription. By default it does not show the focused inbox. But the focused inbox can be toggled on by going to the View menu and clicking on “Show Focused Inbox.”
If you’re using an earlier version of Outlook, that option won’t appear.
As for your second question, the answer is similar. The default folders differ depending on the specific Outlook app you have installed, but you can create folders as you like for saving emails. And no, there is no preferred place to save emails.