Friday, April 25, 2014

The Heartbleed Virus – And How It Will Affect You!

The latest virus, called ‘Heartbleed’, is making headlines around the world due to its impact. While other viruses targeted certain operating systems or email programs, this nasty bug affects not only emails, but everything on the Internet: apps, hardware and websites. Nothing seems to be immune from its reach, including antivirus software. Even some versions of Symantec's Norton AntiVirus software were impacted.

To give you some idea of its pervasive nature, by mid-April there were still 150 million vulnerable apps running on Android smartphones, according to cybersecurity provider FireEye. And that’s just one manufacturer of one device. It is non-discriminatory, affecting all makes and models.

“The fallout from this is likely to continue for weeks and months to come,” said Tom Brennan, a computer security expert who developed a free add-on to the Firefox web browser that detects if a website is at risk.

For you to be safe from Heartbleed, you need to know that everything you use to connect online needs to be updated: smartphone apps, Wi-Fi routers, office servers, websites you visit, etc.

There are some important steps you can take to minimize the threat: Update all your passwords often, and update your software to the latest version. And don’t trust any app, device, computer or website until the security experts specifically say they’ve fixed the problem.

This isn’t your grandmother’s computer virus, either. Heartbleed doesn’t get automatically deleted by your computer’s antivirus program like previous viruses. This one exploits a flaw in the software devices use to talk to one another and, because they’re all interconnected, it only takes one weak spot to allow hackers to find their way in and create a huge problem – with your financial accounts and credit cards.

For more information, and to watch a video regarding Heartbleed, go here.

Be Proactive: Check Your Credit Score

Of course, this means that even though you change all your passwords, update your software and download patches for your router or server, your accounts may still have been exposed to hackers, and your credit affected. That’s why it’s important to check it in the next couple of months, to see if it has been affected.

Your credit score is important in many ways.  It allows you to purchase a home, buy a car, and can even be a factor in getting the best insurance rates. 

Here are 3 ways to help protect your score:

1.  Order an updated credit report each year for you and your spouse.  Many people don’t realize that there may be mistakes on their credit report that lowers their score!  In fact, a recent study showed that 79% of credit reports contain some kind of error!  Go to to request a free copy annually from each of the three major credit bureaus.

2.  Avoid excessive credit inquiries.  Only run your credit report when you are ready to apply for credit and make a purchase.  Consistent and ongoing inquiries can lower your score because the bureaus assume that you will be taking on more debt.

3.  Long history counts!  The best scores have many years of positive credit history.  That’s why it’s a good idea to keep your unused accounts open rather than closing them.  They continue to show positive long-term history and help your score even if you’re not using those credit cards on a regular basis.

If you should discover an recent problem with your credit score, and fear it was caused by Heartbleed, notify your financial institution immediately. Most banks and credit unions have fraud control procedures, and can put a freeze on the accounts affected, so you won’t be liable for the full amount. It will also stop the thieves from stealing more.

This is a problem that won’t be going away soon, either. Bryan Harris, a researcher at analytics software maker SAS, called it "a systemic issue" with a long, uphill road ahead.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

April Home Maintenance Tasks

April has arrived in Western Washington, and brought spring with it (finally!). There is no better time than now to get focused on home maintenance and spring cleaning. Here are a few things you can do in April to protect (and organize) your home. 

Check For Damage - Winter can be really hard on your home. A quick inspection around your property can reveal a lot of home improvement projects! Look for any damage to your roof or outdoor window screens and doors. Make note of chipped paint or areas that are in need of general maintenance. With all the rain we've had this year, some of that rain may have seeped into your siding and started to cause warping or even dry rot! It's best to remedy the situation now, before it gets worse -- and very expensive. Decide what you can do yourself and what will require a professional. 

Spring Clean - It's also time to tackle the inside of your home. Start working on clearing out and donating unused items (think tax deduction next year!). This could be the perfect time to take inventory of any high-value items that need to be documented for your insurance, like guns, artwork, and jewelry.  It's a good idea to take photos or make a quick video of those items and store it in a secure (and fire-proof) location. If something should happen, this will  be of great value when making your claim.

Organize Your Tax Documents - You probably just finished your taxes in the past few weeks.  Were all of your documents easy to locate?  What could make the process even easier next year? Update your filing system or schedule a meeting with your accountant and get prepared now.

Car Maintenance - April is Car Care Month.  If you’ve been putting off an oil change or a tune-up, get it scheduled now.  Summer usually means vacations and more driving outings. Your car will run better, use less gas and maintain it’s value longer!

Spruce Up Your Front Entryway
- How does your front porch look these days?  Could it use a little extra care?  Buy a new welcome mat, plant a pot of flowers, and make sure you can easily read your house numbers. 

Get Great Homeowners Insurance - The best way to protect your home?  Having the right amount of insurance!  Let us give you a no-obligation review of your current policy.  Call 888-867-2866 to schedule your appointment today.