Sea Creatures in your Email?

We recently received yet another email from the IT Helpdesk informing us that more “phishing” emails have been getting into NOVA email boxes. So what is “phishing”, why is it bad, and what do we do about it?

“Phishing” describes methods employed by scammers to get you to divulge your personal information, like your social security number, credit card number, or the logins and passwords to websites you frequent. It’s called “phihsing” because it’s like “fishing”…the scammers are throwing out lots of lines and hoping someone bites. No matter how convincing they sound, they don’t know who you are and they don’t know anything about you. You are not being targeted specifically; they got your email off the internet one way or another and you are just one of millions of people they emailed. But if you “bite”, then the scammer has phished successfully. Why the “ph” in “phishing”? No idea. Maybe it just looks cooler.

Email phishing involves email messages designed to make you give up some personal information. One of best-known scams is the Nigerian Letter scam, in which the usual story is that a person, often a government or bank employee, knows of a large amount of unclaimed money or gold which he cannot access directly. The scammer begs you to help him claim this money and offers a reward. This is also called the “advance-fee” fraud, and though most of us know we aren’t really being emailed by a rich foreign government official in exile, this scam can take many other forms. If someone makes you any kind of offer that involves wiring money or sending you a check to cash on their behalf, be suspicious. Do not trust any links or phone numbers in these emails; these will all lead you to false information.

Some scammers even make the email sound like a cry for help from a friend or relative of yours (they do this by hacking your friend’s email account and sending messages to all of the contacts). Never ever send money (especially through a wiring service) to someone who emailed you without calling them personally to see if they really sent the message.

The most recent phishing attempt at NOVA informed users that their email box was over the storage space limit, and asked the user to click a link to “fix” the problem. The email appeared to come from NOVA IT, but it didn’t. It came from scammers who were using that link (which they created) to collect personal information from NOVA employees. This example shows us how convincing a phishing scam can be. Along the same lines, scammers may send out emails telling you that your credit card account/paypal/amazon/bank account will be shut down if you don’t provide your password/credit card number/pin number/social security number. Some emails provide links to websites that look like real businesses. These are fake. No legitimate businesses will ask you for personal information in an email. If you believe one has, call them to verify (using the phone number listed in the phone book, NOT one in the email).

I know this is a lot of information but it’s very important to be safe when you’re using your email. Here’s my quick advise for dealing with phishing attempts:

  • If someone asks for personal information via email, do not email it to them. If you think it might be a real request and it’s from a business, call. Even if it’s from your friend, call.
  • If there are typos or bad grammar in the email, that is a big red flag indicating it may be a scam email.
  • Just because there’s a company logo in the email or you click on a link that takes you to a website, doesn’t mean it really comes from that company. Just because the email address looks like it comes from a legitimate business doesn’t mean it does. All of these things can be easily faked in an email.
  • Be suspicious of generic greetings like “Dear Customer”.
  • Most businesses will not threaten to close down an account if you don’t provide them with personal information. They WANT you to keep your account!
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
  • If you feel weird about an email, even if you don’t know why, trust your instincts and don’t reply. Better safe than sorry!

For even more information about phishing scams, check out




Browser Wars

What do you know about Internet browsers? Chances are you use one every day, but many people don’t know which browser they’re using, or what a browser even is. A browser is software that accesses and displays web pages. Browsers require a connection to the Internet. Whenever you look at websites, you are using a browser on your computer. Here’s a short video with a bit more information about browsers:

So what difference does it make? Actually, many software companies are competing quite vigorously for the market share in internet browsers, and each browser has its pros and cons. Though you may not care too much as long as you can get to the internet, most tech types have very definite ideas about which browsers are best. Internet browsers are free to download and install, so why not try a new one or two? Some browsers are faster, some are more secure, and sometimes websites that won’t run on one browser will run in another. You can install and use more than one browser at a time; in fact I often run as many as 3 simultaneously.

Here are some basic pros and cons for the most popular browsers:

Internet Explorer:

This browser comes pre-installed on most PCs (it’s a Microsoft product), so if you’re not sure what browser you’re using, it’s probably this one. Most people use IE because it’s the devil they know, but (as is demonstrated in the comic at the top of this post), the IT community doesn’t think very highly of it. IE tends to be slow on releasing new features, and slow to load websites. Older websites may only work correctly on IE (like Denosys!). Because IE is the oldest and, until recently, the most popular of the top 3, it is very vulnerable to malware and viruses. If you want to get the most out of IE, upgrade to the newest version available (you may be using a very old version and not know it).


Firefox has a wide range of plug-ins and customization options, and introduced tabs before IE jumped on the bandwagon (if you’re not using tabbed browsing, upgrade or download a new browser now…you’ll love it). Firefox is faster than IE, though it is popular enough to attract virus and malware. There’s an issue that can cause the software to take up a lot of computer memory if you have a lot of tabs open, and I always do. Most of the computer programmers and web designers I know prefer Firefox.


Chrome is created by Google, and combines web browsing and searching in one application. It is the fastest and simplest browser to use, though for the tech savvy there are lots of customizations available. It offers a browsing mode called Incognito which will keep the computer from saving any details of the pages you’ve looked at. It is very hard, though not impossible, to crash (In fact I crashed mine today), and I have noticed that it doesn’t handle PDFs very well.

What do we use around the FSRC? Hector is a die-hard Chrome fan, and he runs trainings on Chrome regularly. I used Firefox until recently, when I switched to Chrome because of the multiple tabs memory issue. I still like Firefox though I haven’t switched back…being able to use Chrome for on the fly web searching has been very handy.

Not sure what browser/version of a browser you’re using? Just go to this website and it will tell you!



New Horizons Part 2

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about some useful tech tools that were presented at New Horizons 2012. I could only remember 3 of the 7 off the top of my head (mind like a rusty trap) but luckily, the presenters posted the list so I can share the rest with you.


Ever copy content from Microsoft Word into Blackboard and gotten back a big mess? Blackboard doesn’t play nicely with Word’s formatting. But this tool will allow you to strip out all of that formatting and paste nice clean text into Blackboard (or your blog, or anywhere else). You can set it up to work with a shortcut, so it feels the same as a regular cut and paste, only without creating nasty formatting issues.

Freemake Video Downloader and Converter:

If you want to show a YouTube video but you don’t have an internet connection where you’re lecturing, this is a useful tool. You can download the Youtube video as your own video file, carry it around on a flash drive, and play it on any computer. The converter will take your video and make it into another video format, so if your computer doesn’t like the file you have, you can try another type. And it all happens online, so you don’t need to download any software.


Convert your Powerpoints to flash videos. This could be handy if you end up presenting on  a computer that doesn’t have Powerpoint. Also, you can embed flash videos in Blackboard pretty easily, so if your students don’t have Powerpoint, they can still watch your presentation.


It always takes me ages to find special characters in Word or Dreamweaver or other software programs. This site just lets you copy and paste any special characters you might need. Works with many text editors, but not, alas, the NOVA Annandale marquee. But it’s not likely you’ll ever need it for that.

✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿

See, it works with WordPress too!

How To Smartboard

Ever wondered how to put together an 800 series SmartBoard? Who hasn’t? Watch us assemble our newest toy in slightly more than 2 minutes. Contractors, who needs ’em!


If you can’t see the video, click here.

Learning to Live with Copyright

When I was earning my Instructional Technology stripes in the Masters of Library and Information Studies program at UNC Greensboro (we’re unranked! Woo!), I discovered that I had a surprising fascination with copyright law. So when I saw an entire seminar on Copyright and Tech Law Issues at New Horizons this year, you can bet I stuffed my tote with free snacks and grabbed a front-row seat. Because of my job, I create and/or edit a fair bit of web content, so I have to be careful of copyright when selecting pictures and text for websites. Since NOVA is a college, and most website content is not used for marketing and profit, we’re more or less covered by a handy copyright exception known as “Fair Use”. However, Fair Use is not a free-for-all opportunity to use copyrighted materials with impunity, so I like to err on the side of caution.

A few things of note:

  • Copyright can apply to any “original works of authorship” that is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” A “work is fixed…when its embodiment…is sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for a period of more than transitory duration…” In English? Anything you write OR TYPE can be copyrighted. Even your emails.
  • If you save a copy of a computer file, that is the same, as far as copyright is concerned, as if you took that file and xeroxed it. Copies are copies, no matter how easy it is to make them.
  • If you teach, and the content you share is in Blackboard behind password protection (ie. your students have to log in to get it), you are PROBABLY okay.
  • Just because it’s on the Internet does NOT mean you can use it without permission or attribution.
  • When in doubt, ask if you can use something. And always give credit. If you can’t find the owner, find something else to use.
  • If anyone can benefit materially from what you’re doing in any way, be extra extra careful about copyright.

The woman who taught this seminar, copyright attorney Madelyn Wessel, was kind enough to post her resources and make them available to everyone (with attribution!). Here’s her very useful outline and list of copyright resources:

VCCS 2012 Outline





Happy Spring and Presentation Tips

It’s springtime at NOVA! The birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, and the instructional technologists (this one at least) are sneezing.

I found this helpful graphic regarding presentations on the Washington Post website:

If you don’t have marshmallow peep bunnies in bikinis, you might be doing it wrong.

To see the other winners of Washington Post’s Peep Diorama Challenge, go here: