Tech Term Tuesday : STEM

Our local schools are getting back at it this week! We thought this week’s tech term should pay homage to our teachers and students:


STEM education is often seen as the opposite of humanities/liberal arts education, but the truth is that both aim to combine seemingly unrelated concepts and teach students to look for connections between ideas. STEM education is more than just the study of each of its four components; it’s a celebration of the ways in which technical skills affect our lives and our world.

Teachers and students, how do you see STEM education taking place in your school? How have you or could you have benefited from these kinds of programs?

Finally, to anyone starting back to school soon, all of us at Howard Industries want to wish you a year full of exploration, discovery, and maybe even a little fun!

Tech Term Tuesday: Phishing 101

If you’ve been on the internet for more than a day, you probably know that not everything you find on the web is true. Nobody knows that better than honest Abe himself.

But just because you KNOW there’s sketchy stuff on the internet doesn’t mean you’re automatically safe from it. Sneaky internet scammers known as phishers have mastered the art of tricking unsuspecting users into handing over personal information like account passwords, bank account numbers, and even social security numbers. Thankfully, by being thoughtful and vigilant, you can protect yourself from phishing attacks.




So, what is phishing?
We’re glad you asked.

SUBTITLE (2)Got it? We’ll go into it in a bit more detail later.

Wouldn’t I know if I was being scammed?
Well, maybe. Phishing is a form of internet trickery that has been around a long time, and crooks have gotten really good at making you believe that you’re visiting credible web pages. A 2013 study at North Carolina State University asked 53 undergrad students to “distinguish ‘malicious’ emails from ‘legitimate’ ones”, and nearly all of them were unable to correctly identify phishing attempts.

How it works
Most phishing happens in the form of emails, which are sent by phishers posing as actual companies, like airlines, banks, online marketplaces, etc. These emails look authentic; they may even include real logos, address you by your name, or appear to be written by someone who actually works for the company the email is trying to impersonate. Often, the email will tell you that the website needs you to verify account details and link you to a page where you can do that.

Here’s where it gets tricky.
Unfortunately, those links lead to websites that LOOK like the real thing, but are actually cleverly constructed fake sites. After clicking a link in an email, you think you’ve been directed to the Google Drive homepage, so you type in your account information. Now that you’ve entered your password on this scam website, phishers now have access to all the information linked to your Google account.
It can be REALLY hard, almost impossible, to spot phony web pages. Can you tell which of these is the actual Google login page, and which is the work of devious scammers?

gmail 2

gmail 1

Probably not. The first one is the actual page, but there’s almost no difference between the two. That’s just how good phishers have gotten at tricking us.

So how can you keep yourself safe?
Here’s a simple list of tips for avoiding online scams:

  • Don’t click links in emails from addresses you don’t know.
    If an email looks like it might be suspicious, it probably is. Even if the email is from a contact of yours, hover over the link before clicking to see if it directs you to a site you recognize.


    Not familliar with Do a quick search on the site name to determine whether or not it’s reputable.          (image via Yahoo! Tech)

  • Check the URL.
    We’ve already talked about how you can’t spot a phony webpage just by looking at it. If you’ve clicked an emailed link, check the address bar. If the site you’re visiting is asking for valuable data like bank information, your social security number, etc., the URL should begin with https:// rather than http://, as well as a little padlock icon. Double click that padlock and make sure “issued to” matches the URL of the website you think you’re on. If it’s different, you’re likely looking at a phishing attempt.
    Also, look out for URLs and email addresses that are not-quite copycat versions of the websites they’re imitating. In the NCSU study referenced earlier, students received this almost-legitimate-looking email:

    wallmart email…seems legit (via LA Times)

    A more recent Netflix scam fooled users with this page. See if you can spot what’s wrong with it:

    Notice how the URL does not end in Phishers regularly use legitimate-looking URLs so that you don’t suspect anything amiss. For example, and are both actual pages that end in However, and are not. This isn’t a foolproof rule though, so if you’re suspicious, manually type the website you’re trying to access into your address bar and see if it asks you to update your info. If it does, it’s most likely not a scam. This image is from an incident where phishers tricked Netflix users into calling that 1-800 number on the page. Which brings us to our next point:

  • Don’t give out information over phone calls you didn’t initiate.
    It’s much safer to call a number printed in literature from your bank than one that was emailed to you. Phishers have been known to lure you in with a fake number and pose as customer service personnel to get you to hand over sensitive information. Sometimes they can even use VoIP services (read up on that next Tuesday!) to change their area code so that it looks like they’re calling from a local number. This kind of scam is fairly new, so do your research and use caution when it comes to calling numbers because of emailed instructions.
  • Say NO to pop-up windows!
    Pop-ups have a nasty reputation, but for good reason: not only are they annoying, they tend to be dangerous. Utilize your browser’s pop-up blockers to keep them from bothering you, and never click any links or enter any information on pop-ups that might slip through.
  • Be wary of software downloads.
    Any email link that prompts you to download something is automatically suspect. Use extreme caution, and don’t complete any downloads that you didn’t initiate.
  • Install security software
    We offer several options in our store. Read up on the specs of each one to decide which one is best for you. A good anti-virus program can save you lots of trouble down the road by keeping hackers from installing malicious software on your computer that will allow them to monitor your online activity and obtain your personal data.

While phishing is a very real danger, you can protect yourself from being preyed upon by using caution in your online activity. The best phishing tip is this: follow your instincts and play it safe. If something seems suspicious or too-good-to-be-true, it probably is!

Want to read up on keeping yourself safe online? Here’s a collection of articles we referenced here:

“Phishing” Fraud: How to Avoid Getting Fried by Phony Phishermen
(via US Securities & Exchange Committee)

How to Avoid Phishing Scams
(via Yahoo! Tech)

There’s A New Scam To Steal Your Gmail Info, And It’s Hard To Catch
Phishing Scam Targeting Netflix May Trick You With Phony Customer Service Reps
(both via Huffington Post)

12 steps to avoid phishing scams
(via Tech Republic)

Summer Sales Event

Summer is in full swing, and so are the savings over at the Howard Store! Here’s a little peek at some of the hot deals we’re rolling out during our Summer Sales Event

First up is the Midland XTC260 Action Camera. If you’re planning on a summer full of outdoor adventures, this is the camera for you. The most compact and lightweight46a25426-62ec-4df9-be22-ccf4ac8b6566 of Midland’s line of Action Cameras, the XTC260 comes with a mounting kit that allows you to attach it to just about anything, as well as a submersible case to keep out water and dust. It’s ridiculously easy to use: you slide the switch forward to begin filming and slide it back to stop. And all of your action videos are recorded in 720p high-definiton.

Earlier this week, Lenovo released this video to promote their line of Yoga Ultrabooks…

…and we’re a little obsessed with it. If you have furry friends in your house, you know just how nosy they can be. Luckily, we can help you stay one step ahead of their shenanigans with the Yoga 11 tablet computer. The cool thing about the Yoga is that it can be used as a tablet OR a laptop computer, or really anything in between, since the touchscreen (which is an 11.6 inch HD display, by the way) can be rotated all the way around. It’s perfect for anyone who’s constantly on-the-go and wants both the convenience of a tablet and the comfort of a laptop in one slim, energy-efficient package.


Finally, the crown jewel of the summer collection is the Samsung Smart UN55HU9000. uhdtvRemember our post about 4k/UHDTVs from a few weeks ago? At first glance, the HU9000 looks like your average 55″ UHDtv. And then, you notice…un65hu9000k_013_deta28e03a7d.jpg.web.v1Yep. that’s right. The flatscreen display is curved to provide the ultimate immersive experience. On top of the incredible picture quality and state-of-the-art curved screen, this Samsung model is a smart TV that can connect to Netflix, YouTube, Pandora radio, and many other web apps via Wi-Fi. There’s not enough room on this blog to list all of the features this model offers (screen mirroring, One Connect, Quad Screen, etc…) so check out the listing for yourself and see all the many ways the Samsung UHD9000 can enhance your media experience.


When you’re ready to disconnect and head outside, we offer plenty of games and toys for good, old-fashioned summer fun.

outdoor products collage

There really is something for everyone to be found at our Summer Sales Event! We invite you to head over to the Howard Store and see just how cool these savings are.

Tech Term Tuesday: Cookie

Most of us use computers everyday, but we don’t realize how much goes in to making them work the way we need them to. Every Tuesday on this blog, as well as our Howard Technology Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages, we’ll be highlighting a technological term that will help you understand how your electronic devices work. Maybe you’ll learn something new along the way!

Today’s term: cookie 

cookie tech term


(Definition from Wikipedia. Image via BostInno.)

A Simplified Explanation of “The Cloud”

By Kathy Green

“The Cloud”

Every day, millions of people all over the world spend time playing, shopping, chatting, e-mailing, searching and surfing the Web.  In fact, the Web, Internet, or “The Cloud,” as it is often called, has been described as the quintessential expression of modern globalization.  But in more definite terms, what is it?


What is the cloud?

“The cloud” actually refers to the multitude of public and private, academic, business, and government infrastructures (servers and hardware) and IT services (software and applications) that are connected through an extensive array of networking technologies and accessible by computer.

Being able to access this great ‘cloud’ of servers/software/applications is like having the ultimate supercomputer at our fingertips-information and resources any time we need them.  It’s called “cloud computing”, and it has real advantages.  It gives us (people and businesses) access to an almost unlimited amount of storage and computing power that can be accessed from any place in the world that has Internet connectivity.  So, exactly where is it?

Where is the cloud?

This mammoth “cloud,” which supports the never-ending flow and processing of digital information, is housed on servers in blocks of office buildings and warehouses throughout the world, with the largest data centers in the US and Europe.  But beyond that, location is not really important.  To illustrate, let’s consider electricity.  We don’t have to understand precisely how it works or know where the particular grid that services our area is located in order to have electricity.  All we have to do is plug-in to an outlet, and it works!  It’s the same with this shared, super-computer in “the cloud.”  We don’t have to understand all the technical aspects or know where the servers are located in order to access it, all we need is a properly configured computer.

The key is access, which, aside from hardware and configuration, is governed by types of clouds-public, private, and hybrid.  Email is an example of a public cloud service.  When you access your email account, you are accessing secure servers that have been set up to host email services for your particular provider and made available to you-the public.  Conversely, private clouds are built exclusively for an individual enterprise, allowing access to only a select group of individuals (e.g. employees, customers, etc.).  Hybrid clouds, on the other hand, offer increased flexibility by combining elements of both public and private clouds.

How can you benefit from the cloud?

Different clouds (within “The Cloud”) do different things.  For instance, the Facebook “cloud” enables you to give yourself an online identity and connect to friends and family; Google Apps, a cloud-based productivity suite, is designed for business operations, and Amazon’s Kindle cloud computer provide storage and syncing for ebooks.  Some of these clouds are free and some are not.  How you use “The cloud” depends on what you want to do.

For most of us, cloud computing has become and integral part of daily life.  We used the cloud to store data, in case our laptop or smart phone is lost, gets stolen, or becomes damaged.  We use the cloud to auto-synchronize things like email, pictures, music and contacts between our devices.  And because cloud computing can maximize accessibility and increase our bottom line by reducing equipment acquisition, management, and operating costs, we use it for business.

So what can you do in “the cloud”?

We say “The sky’s the limit!”

Cloud Computing Humor

Are you “Geek-Chic”?

Over the years, the word “Geek” has started to lose it’s negative connotations and is now used as a positive description.  Let’s be honest, we all consider ourselves to be a little geeky or tech savvy in our own ways!  Check out this insightful and humorous infographic by Danny Ashton featured on Business 2 Community to find out how you
score on the geek scale.