Cybersecurity Awareness Basics

Consumers increasingly rely on computers and the Internet — the “cyber” world — for everything from shopping and communicating to banking and bill-paying. But while the benefits of faster and more convenient cyber services for bank customers are clear, the risks posed by these services as well as the strategies for preventing or recovering from cyber-related crimes may not be as well-known by the average consumer and small business owner.

Common cyber-related crimes include identity theft, frauds, and scams. Identity theft involves a crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person's personal data to open fraudulent credit card accounts, charge existing credit card accounts, withdraw funds from deposit accounts, or obtain new loans. A victim's losses may include not only out-of-pocket financial losses but also substantial costs to restore credit history and to correct erroneous information in their credit reports.

For more information, check out he FDIC's website on Cybersecurity Basics.

This Cold House: 18 Ways to Keep You and Your Home Warm Without Big Energy Bills

Like many American households, we dealt with some seriously cold weather over the last week or two. We had multiple school delays and closings primarily due to the cold weather and it wasn’t uncommon to see temperatures far below -10 F, even during the midday.

Cold weather can be a challenge. The simple solution, of course, is to just crank up the heat and not worry about it. That certainly works, of course, but then the huge energy bill comes in a month later, leaving you with a drained checking account and frustration about the expensive energy costs.

Clearly, there is great value in figuring out ways to combat the cold without turning up the heat. How can you keep the chill away without spending lots of money on energy bills?

Here are 18 things that our family does to keep energy costs low, even during the coldest months.

#1: Lower the temperature at bedtime; only raise it when you feel the need to do so.

Before bedtime, we turn the temperature in the house down quite low. After all, we’re all climbing into warm beds with plenty of blankets and covers over us to keep us warm. So we simply turn down the heat so that we’re not heating the house when we’re all in bed snuggled under blankets.

In the morning, when we get up, we raise the temperature a little, but we’re mostly warm in our pajamas, so we don’t raise it a whole lot. We only raise it if someone actually complains about being cold.

This cycle repeats itself each day when the weather is cold. We turn it down for bedtime, raise it just a bit in the morning, and then raise it by a degree or two any time someone mentions being cold, while also suggesting that they do the other things in this thread.

#2: Dress warmly and comfortably around the house.

This one’s easy. Just dress in warm, comfortable clothes around the house. If you feel cool, toss on a hoodie as a layer on top of the t-shirt you’re already wearing. Wear long pants, ideally in layers. Wear socks and slippers. Everything should feel comfortable and warm.

If you’re dressing in a warm, comfortable fashion around the house, there isn’t much need to raise the thermostat to a high temperature. It can stay rather low and you’ll feel fine.

As I write this, I’m wearing a t-shirt, a long sleeved t-shirt, and a hoodie on top, and a pair of sweatpants under my jeans, along with some wool socks. The temperature in our house is fairly low, but I feel great!

#3: Have blankets available in each room.

If there’s a room that you spend a lot of time in, have two or three blankets sitting around that are easily available just to grab if you feel cold. You can put one under you when you sit down and another on your lap. Again, it’s all about feeling warm and cozy, and if you feel warm and cozy due to blankets and clothes and body heat, there’s little need to raise the temperature.

We have a big pile of blankets that we keep in our family room during the winter and, almost automatically, we grab one when we walk in there to watch a television show or play a video game or read a book. It just feels cozy to have a blanket around you.

The key is simple availability. Just have blankets sitting out in a pile in each room. Fold them up when you’re done. It’s just that easy.

#4: Make sure your windows are sealed.

Check each of the windows in your house. Put your hand around all of the edges of the window and see if you can feel any exceptionally cool air coming in. If you do, you have an air leak, and that air leak is costing you money.

Sealing it is pretty easy. All you need is a putty knife with a rounded corner for spreading caulk, a caulking gun, and some caulk. Just put a thin line of caulk along the leaking edge, then spread it evenly with the rounded corner of the putty knife. Boom – the caulk fills the gap and blocks the flow of air.

Cutting out those air leaks means that your house is much more efficient in terms of retaining heat, and when the heat stays inside rather than leaking outside, it’s going to result in your furnace or other heaters running much less frequently to maintain your home’s temperature, which will save you money.

#5: Make sure your doors have weather strips.

Another useful strategy is to make sure that there aren’t any big leaks along the edges of the doors in your home, particularly along the bottom but also along the top. If you can run your hand along the edge of a door and feel the flow of cold air even though the door is closed, you need to be blocking that flow.

Adding a weatherstrip is the easiest solution. They attach very easily to the edges of doors, providing a block against the flow of cold air. Much like caulk around the edges of windows, cold air is kept from flowing in, which means that your house stays warmer for longer without hot air being added by your furnace, which saves you money.

Another thing to note about weather strips and caulk is that they provide the same help in the summer. They keep hot air from coming in during the summer, which means that your air conditioner will work less, too.

#6: If not, make sure your doors have draft blockers.

If you have a big draft through the bottom of a door but aren’t able to install a weather strip, simply block the draft with a large piece of cloth. A rolled-up blanket will work perfectly fine for this in a pinch, but you can also buy (or make) draft blockers that sit along the bottom of doors.

If you want to just use an old blanket, just roll one up in a tube and pin it closed with a few safety pins, then set it along the bottom of the door and stuff it into the crack a bit. That will block much of the cold air with minimal effort, though it’s not a perfect block.

A better solution is to buy a draft blocker that’s filled with material designed to insulate, which will provide a much better block for keeping cold air outside.

#7: Run your ceiling fans on low in a clockwise direction.

In the winter, warm air collects along the top of a room, so the ceiling feels a few degrees warmer than the floor. Ideally, you want that warm air to be circulating in the room, but circulating slowly enough so that you don’t have the cooling effect of moving air that you get from a fan.

The solution is to run your ceiling fan on low with the blades running in a clockwise direction, which is something you can set with just a little switch on most ceiling fans. When you do this and run your fan on low, it gently pulls air upward toward the ceiling, which pushes the air sitting on the ceiling down along the walls. This creates a very slow and gentle flow of air in the room, so subtle that you’ll barely feel air moving at all, but what will happen is that the warm air stuck up near the ceiling will flow around the room.

It’s an easy fix. Just check around the base of your ceiling fan for a little switch that changes direction, then run the fan on low. You’ll be able to lower the thermostat by a few degrees and that will result in a nice net savings.

#8: Eat warm meals.

Winter is a great time to eat warm meals cooked in the home, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, consuming warm foods leaves your body feeling warm, elevating your internal temperature and creating a feeling of warmth. Second, the process of cooking something contributes heat to your house, meaning that your thermostat runs just a bit less. Though your oven and stove top aren’t as efficient for heating as your furnace, it’s far better than in the summer where your air conditioner is fighting against that heat.

Cook up a big batch of hot soup. The heat used in making the soup will radiate out into your home, and when you eat the soup, you’ll feel (and actually be) warmer, too!

#9: Take warm showers or baths.

When you take a bath or shower, make it a warm one. Again, the reasoning is easy – since you want your house to be warm in the winter, the heating of the water is much more efficient than in summer because the heat “lost” to the environment is “gained” by keeping your house warmer, which is what you want in the winter.

Furthermore, a hot shower or a warm bath will make you feel much warmer on a cold day, meaning that you have much less reason to crank up your thermostat for warmth. You can leave it quite low and the warm bath or shower will still make you feel all warm inside.

Hot tip: Have a nice thick towel to dry off with and a warm robe to slip on immediately after the shower. I often actually put the towel near the furnace vent during the shower so the hot air will warm it up for me.

#10: Wear house slippers.

This is such a simple thing that makes such a big difference. The first part of my body that feels cold in the winter is my feet. If my feet start feeling cold, I start feeling cold, and if I start feeling cold, I want to go turn up the thermostat, and that costs money.

Thus, one very smart solution to keeping energy costs in check while still feeling warm is to just keep my feet warm, and there are fewer easy ways to do that than a pair of warm house slippers.

Just find a pair that fits your feet nicely and wear them solely as indoor shoes, around the house. They’ll keep your feet nice and toasty, and if your feet are nice and toasty, you’re more likely to feel nice and toasty, and you’ll have less reason to crank up the heat.

#11: Wear a hat.

This is something I often do during the work day, when everyone else in the house is at work or at school. Some might feel awkward doing it, but I actually like it.

It’s simple – I just wear a hat around the house during the day. It keeps my ears really warm. When the kids leave, I actually keep the temperature really low, and only turn it up just before they’re coming home. I wear warm clothes and have my hat on all day long.

I don’t expect others to do it, but it’s a perfectly fine solution if you live alone or you’re on the same page with others in your house. For me, it makes me feel warm even when the thermostat is low.

#12: Drink warm beverages.

This ties right in with eating warm food, but it’s a very simple way of making you feel warm even on a very cold day, plus it has the same benefit that the excess heat just helps keep your home warm in a slightly less efficient way.

I often drink coffee or hot cider or hot tea during the day on cold days, as it does a great job of warming me up inside. There are few things nicer on a cold afternoon than a hot cup of tea or a hot cup of apple cider or some coffee.

Such beverages are really easy to make, even in the microwave. I make tea all the time in the microwave and use it to heat up cider and cold brew coffee.

#13: Move around, or even exercise a bit.

One surefire way to start feeling cold is to sit around without moving very much. Sitting still will almost always bring out the chills, and when you feel chilly, you want to raise up the heat.

Simply moving around helps a lot with that, especially if the movement is vigorous. Go do a bunch of housework that involves moving around, or even do some basic exercises like walking up and down the stairs several times or touching your toes or doing jumping jacks.

Those moves might seem simple, but they’re going to raise your metabolism up a bit and make you feel a whole lot warmer.

#14: Minimize the time doors are ajar.

Don’t leave doors hanging open for any reason, as doors provide a huge opportunity for cold air to just flood into your home and cause your furnace to start burning money! Keep them closed if at all possible!

I realize that for most people, this is pretty normal behavior, but there are times where doors are left ajar without anyone thinking about it, such as when you’re carrying in items from the car. It is well worth your time to stop for a second and make sure the door is closed rather than letting it hang open because your arms are full. Every second it’s open means that cold air is flooding in and you’re losing heat!

Be smart with your doors. Keep them closed.

#15: Cover windows that don’t face sunlight.

If you have windows in your home that aren’t exposed to sunlight in the winter, put a covering of some kind over them. Draw the blinds and hang up a blanket in the window, if nothing else.

The reason is that if there is no sunlight coming through the window, even if your window is well insulated, it’s likely still an active source of heat leaks. If there are times when sunlight flows in the window, this can help mitigate it, but if there’s never any direct sunlight, don’t let it stay open.

We often draw the blinds on any window that does not have direct sunlight hitting it, and on windows where there is never any sun in the winter, we’ll block off the window as well as we can.

#16: Spend time together in the same room.

One wonderful solution for keeping yourself warm on a cold day is to simply sit close to other people. Stay in the same room with the people in your home so that your ambient body heat helps keep them warm, too.

On a cold evening, I love snuggling under a blanket with Sarah while we watch a movie or each read a book. I love it when all five members of our family are on or near the couch watching a movie. Not only do we feel closer as people, it becomes nice and warm on a cold night.

You don’t have to be that close, though. Just hang out near each other and it’ll help.

#17: Take hot water to bed.

One trick I’ve always loved is to fill up a water bottle with really warm water and toss it under the covers of my bed just before I go into the bathroom to get ready for bed. As I brush my teeth and floss, the water bottle is warming up the blankets on my bed, and when I climb in there, things are warm and that water bottle is like a little furnace.

This makes it much easier to climb into bed on a cold evening with the thermostat down low. It’s really nice to climb into a warm bed; when it’s cold, it can be unpleasant to get in those sheets and blankets at first. That water bottle helps.

It’s easy, too. You can heat up a water bottle in the microwave by just filling up a microwave-safe bottle mostly full with water, microwaving it until the water is hot, then capping it and putting it in your bed. If you’re worried about somehow opening it in the night, you can always pull it out of there just before you fall asleep.

#18: Have warm things near your bed.

One final trick I’ve learned over the years is to always have warm items beside your bed for when you wake up in the night or in the morning. Keep slippers beside your bed. Keep a pullover hooded sweatshirt by your bed. Keep a robe by your bed.

That way, when you wake up in the night or in the morning, the existential dread of leaving the warm covers isn’t quite so intense, and by the time you get those items on and move around for a little bit, you often don’t feel very cold at all so there isn’t much of a rush to turn up the heat.

I have this big green hoodie that I put on most mornings right when I get up in the winter. It’s so warm that by the time I’m downstairs, I feel no need to turn up the heat.



Make Your Kid’s Internet of Things Toy Story a Safe and Happy One

Remember when the most dangerous thing a parent had to worry about when giving their child a Christmas present was that he would shoot an eye out? Well okay, that waspretty serious, but the most popular items on the list for Santa today can be just as dangerous in different ways.

I’m talking, of course, about Internet of Things Toys (IoT Toys) or Smart Toys. Some of the most popular IoT toys this year include Hatchimals, Teddy Ruxpin (all updated and digital now!), Droids (think BB-8 from Star Wars) and Hello Barbie. Smart toys are expected to account for 18% of both the toy and video game markets by 2018.

Aside from the cool factor and just being flat out fun, these IoT toys can offer even the youngest of kidseducational benefits from literacy and numeracy skills to digital literacies and coding skills. They will also learn collaborative play and expand their creative and rational thinking.

However, in an increasingly scary trend, these toys also put kids at risk in ways they will never think of and many of their parents won’t either. That is because these toys pose threats to children’s data protection as their connectivity through the internet means kids and their actions and even locations can be tracked, recorded and exploited.

In order to use these toys, kids have to register with the cloud and put their personal information out there. Hackers are increasingly targeting such companies; CloudPets, Hello Barbie and VTech are just a few who have experienced serious breaches. Some of the information gained in such breaches includes voice recordings, users’ system information, Wi-Fi network names, internal MAC addresses, account IDs, and even MP3 files. Cybercriminals also were able to access parent accounts including names, email addresses, secret questions and answers for passwords, IP addresses, mailing addresses and download histories.

As bad as these breaches are, they aren’t even close to the worst part about the IoT toy dangers. The creepiest part is that hackers can access the toys and make them do things or say things that may harm kids. One product even allowed unauthorized Bluetooth access from any smartphone or tablet within 50 meters, thus potentially allowing strangers in the immediate surroundings to talk to children. They also make the child very trackable.

So, what to do? Go back to giving the Red Rider BB gun? Of course not—we want our kids to have the latest and greatest toys and to enjoy the benefits of today’s technology. We just have to make it our responsibility to keep them safe, just as Ralphie’s parents tried to do.

Here are some recommendations for parents to consider when purchasing IoT toys:

1. Research app permissions before purchasing smart toys and disable access to the permissions that can compromise your privacy.
2. Consider the wireless profile of devices. Is the Wi-Fi-connection an access point or client?
3. Double-Check the Parental Controls
5. Teach your kids not to give sensitive information to toy providers (and monitor the set up!)
6. Disable location services.
7. Mute any microphones and block any webcams
8. For integration with Alexis, Siri…, set up a separate account from your buying account.
9. Update the firmware regularly.
10. Disable In-App Purchases. Some smart toys offer up the ability to purchase various in-app items. If you don’t disable purchases, your child may run up quite a high bill. There have been plenty of situations in which children have amassed significant debt on apps using their parents’ credit cards, including one bill worth $5000 spent on Jurassic World and another for $46,000 on Game of War: Fire Age.
11. Watch your kids play and engage with them! Maybe they’ll teach you a thing or two!

Most importantly, know this: if any device you have in your home connects to the internet, whether it’s though Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or another form of connectivity, you can bet your data is being harvested, analyzed and sold.


The end of the year brings no greater joy than the opportunity to express to you season’s greetings and good wishes. May your holidays and New Year be filled with joy. 

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!