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Switch-off of analogue PSTN

This article will record the progress of the planned switch-off of the analogue PSTN (public switched telephone network) by 2025, and its implications to all of our generation, as Openreach moves to implement a fully digital service. The issue was brought to the attention of the Cardiff u3a Computer Group by Jenny Sims, a group member, who has a number of roles including being Chair of the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) Digital Working party and an NPC Executive Member.

It’s an article that will change over the next few months and years, so please look back for updates and further information as we become aware of issues, problems and hopefully solutions.

What implications might this have for older people?

  • Digital services are not universally good across rural areas
  • There will need to be a solution to the issue of digital services requiring power – what happens if there’s a break in power supply, this has been highlighted recently after the storms brought down power lines in Scotland and NE England
  • Cell telephony doesn’t provide a 100% coverage as a backup to digital services

What implications might this have for people with certain disabilities?

  • It’s been reported to us that certain people with visual problems have been experiencing difficulties in the Salisbury pilot area with the withdrawal of the 1471 service, with call-back not working, and with needing to install a new phone number

A video showing the opportunities and issues for Telecare

Here’s a link to the Progress Openreach has reported by January 2022. Much of this is very technical, so some of the following information might be more readable.

Here’s a briefing from BT on the project; and an update on what’s happening in Wales forwarded to Jenny in her role sitting on the National Pensioners Convention. Which? have also published a briefing on the subject which I encourage you all to look at. 

Some additional references

Switchover from analogue to digital telephony: UK consumer and micro-business reactions

The UK’s PSTN network will switch off in 2025 – BT Business

Internet revamp for the humble landline – BBC News

OpenReach PSTN Switchover – a technical presentation

Jenny has also written the article below, which will hopefully appear in the latest Cardiff u3a magazine …

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Ring, ring: Ready for the big ‘phone switchover?

Only three years until 2025 when all telephone providers will do the big “switchover” moving landline customers from the country’s traditional telephone network to digital technologies and analogue services are finally shut down. 

Though BT published a timescale back in 2019, many older people’s organisations have expressed concern that the public have not been given enough information about the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) moving to Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP), what it really means and how it could adversely affect older and vulnerable people.

Among them is the National Pensioners Convention (NPC), which represents 1.5 million members in Wales, England and Northern Ireland. 

Among the big questions is what happens if there’s a break in power supplies and people need to access emergency services – because the new system will run off broadband – and handsets will have to be plugged into an electricity socket.

Providers say solutions will be found – which will include the provision of emergency battery-powered backups for phones and routers.

This scenario became a reality last November when Storm Arwen hit the UK, causing widespread power outages and left 9,000 homes without power for more than a week.

Jan Shortt, NPC General Secretary did interviews with Talk Radio and other stations, and heard from affected listeners.

She said: “They raised the issue of not being able to charge mobile phones and other devices and therefore not able to summon help. It is clear that the majority of the population had not heard of the digital switch.”

In January Ofcom held an online public meeting to give an update on the “switchover” rollout throughout the UK and provide an opportunity to ask questions.

Jeff Richards, an NPC Wales executive member and a retired Swansea BT engineer, attended. He said: “Unfortunately they did not answer any questions that I raised regarding vulnerable customers nor anything on power supply. I felt that my questions were merely swatted away.”

BT have agreed to meet the NPC to address their concerns – which include, who will pay for the battery packs (some around £160) – the customer or provider?

Virgin Media has already promised that vulnerable customers with “accessibility needs or don’t have a mobile phone” will be given an emergency backup line at no extra cost.

Unsurprisingly, customers in various areas have reported teething problems as the system is being rolled out. For example, people in the Salisbury pilot area with visual problems have experienced difficulties with the withdrawal of the 1471 service and the need to get new phone numbers. 

Hopefully, in the three years left of the rollout, teething problems will have been sorted. But be prepared: only an estimated 1.5million out of 29million landlines have so far been converted – and one day those old phones will stop ringing!

For further information:

Jenny Sims is a Cardiff U3A Computer Group Member, Chair, NPC’s Digital Working Party and an NPC Wales Executive Member

Browsers and Search Engines – 2022

It’s always worth reviewing which search engine you should use, as it is the browser of choice to “surf the web”. The reasons you might wish to consider which search engine you might wish to use are greater privacy, enhanced security, minimise adverts being displayed, or to get more meaningful pages being displayed, but first we’ll look at the web browser you might want to use.

First things first. If you’re using Internet Explorer you must seriously consider moving to Edge as Microsoft are removing support for Internet Explorer and one day you’ll find it just doesn’t work. If you’re using the initial release of Edge you should also upgrade to the latest version. It’s faster, more stable and uses the same code base (which is the open source Chromium) as some of the other browsers I’ll talk about later.

The next thing to remember is that Google is not a Browser. If you have a Google app on your smart device, it’s just Google’s “convenient” way of getting you to use their search engine and capture lots of useful marketing data from you! Google’s browser is called Chrome, and it uses the same code base as Edge (as mentioned above) – others include Brave, Opera and Vivaldi.

Chrome is by far the most popular browser accounting for more than 80% of the internet browser traffic, it has a wide range of useful extensions, and if you can be bothered to create a Google account and navigate through the preference screens, you can make it reasonably private – but you may wish to install the AdBlock Plus extension – an advert blocker, to stop intrusive adverts appearing on your web pages. [Another way of doing this is to look for Reader View, created for users with visual disability originally, which simplifies the view of a page on your browser screen.

But why use Chrome when you can use another browser which has built-in privacy. I’m talking about Brave. You can deploy many of Chrome’s extensions in Brave and virtually everything you see looks like Chrome, but without tying you to Google. I seriously recommend you look at Brave.

If not Brave, why not Microsoft Edge. The complete re-write of Edge using Chromium and with the support of Microsoft behind it makes this an excellent choice for those who use a lot of Microsoft applications (eg Office 365 which you can run in the browser, just as you can run the Google apps in Chrome) and is growing fast in popularity even if it’s Preferences menus are a bit tricky to work your way through.

If you’re an Apple user, I suggest you look no further than Safari, although all of the others can run on MacOS. It’s optimised for the Apple platform and integrates well with the other apps in the Mac/iPhone/iPad ecosystem.

That leaves two “outliers”. Firefox was one of the first browsers growing out the original work done on Netscape, it’s open source and has a huge and committed user-base. I have nothing to say against it, and nothing much to say for it either. It’s a good solid internet browser.

A couple of references to follow this up then …

The best web browsers for 2022 – ranks them under various categories.

The top ten internet browsers for 2022 – reviews the pluses and minuses of various browsers.

So we turn to Search Engines. You want to find something out on the internet – you just google it, don’t you? Well you can, but there are other choices as well, and this is where privacy concerns might suggest you might want to look at an alternative.

I’ll be upfront. I’ve been using DuckDuckGo (often in combination with Brave) for a couple of years now. I value the fact that my activity on the internet isn’t tracked and the results that are returned are not slanted towards my prior search history, and most importantly my activities are not farmed off to marketing agencies.

There’s nothing wrong with Google Search – it’s the most popular on the internet, but that’s by default rather than choice. The results are presented well, but there is a slant towards promoted results and results based on previous searches. You can change your search preferences a bit, deploy an ad blocker (see above), but why should you haver to!

DuckDuckGo is now presented as an alternative search engine in most, if not all, browsers and exists as an app on smart devices as well. Give a try! It’s my default search engine on my Apple devices.

The only real alternative to Google Search and DuckDuckGo is Microsoft’s Bing. The service has its origins in Microsoft’s previous search engines: MSN SearchWindows Live Search and later Live Search. Bing is now the code base for Yahoo’s search facility as it is for Ecosia – an ethical green alternative. Ecosia importantly doesn’t use any third-party tracking tools, meaning that any search made on the service won’t be seen by any party other than Ecosia. Furthermore, any search made on Ecosia becomes anonymized after one week. In contrast, Google and Bing will hold onto bits of search data (such as the device or date), even after deleting browser history and cookies.

That’s about it, some references then …

The ten best internet search engines of 2022 – a review, like the one above that highlights strengths and weaknesses of the various search engines.

Stolen phone & SIM locking

A rather disturbing incident involving a stolen phone and credit cards and the ability of a fraudster/thief being able to reset a user’s password/pass-number for a high-street bank occurred in September involving a journalist called Charlotte Morgan. She described what happened to her (and it transpired others) when her phone and credit cards were stolen from a locker in her local gym.

The incident was covered by the BBC https://bbc.in/3Vm8ylH and https://bbc.in/3CukHMS and also in the papers.

The incident was described by the FT Adviser in two reports – firstly the incident, and then (belatedly) Santander’s response.

Charlotte chose to broadcast her experiences on twitter and got a range of helpful and supportive pieces of advice.

So we start with the first piece of advice – keep your phone and your credit cards separate. Don’t store/keep them in the same place. Maybe, if you follow the advice that follows later you should just keep the credit card details only on your phone and dispense with using plastic. For Apple that involves storing the card information in your Wallet.

And this is the security loophole that the thief was exploiting. The default setting when you get your new phone, and insert the SIM is to leave the SIM unlocked. This means that the SIM can be taken out of the phone with your network details (and more), and inserted into another phone. Not really what you want, is it? So, lock the SIM to your phone, and by doing that, if the SIM is taken out – it is of no use in another phone. You will need to remember the new PIN you create which you will have to supply when you power-up your phone, or when you change it for a new/replacement. This is obviously an important piece of information to remember!!! There is no way of recovering the SIM PIN if you forget it!!!

So what actually happened. This thread explains it well …

So what do you do? On an iPhone or Android …..

But what are the default SIM PINs that network operators use?

This link will be useful as it lists the default SIM PINs for the major network operators. These are the ones you need to change to your own personally chosen PIN.

It really is quite important. Change your SIM PIN and keep your credit cards separate from your phone.

Keeping safe online

The threats – real and perceived

[First posted 10 September 2020; minor changes 21 June 2021]

Luckily, there’s plenty of advice and guidance available – often slanted particularly towards our demographic (ie oldies) …

Those two sites are particularly easy to follow and understand, but others are equally informative and targeted.

Your bank probably has guidance which it publishes online and which is accessible to everyone, not just their customers …

I’ll return to further information, guidance and references at the end of this post, but first we need to look at a few issues, discuss some terminology that’s widely used and try and tease out what’s really important, and what’s just an inconvenience and then it’s up to you to judge where you find yourself on the scale of …

Terrified -> Apprehensive -> Sensibly Aware -> Relaxed -> Unconcerned

First let’s distinguish the difference between online security and online privacy. These are two different issues which are however linked. Sometimes you have to relinquish some privacy to receive a service – unless you choose to pay for it (and I’ve long been an advocate of paying for services if they do a job that is necessary); exactly how much privacy are you prepared to relinquish?

Security on the other hand is an absolute – you should not be prepared to accept less than your very best efforts . We’ll deal with that in the third part of the post.

How do you relinquish your privacy, and how much of a loss of privacy is acceptable?

Some services could not be offered without income from adverts, or paid-for advertising – eg Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; and some eg Google and Amazon track and provide information to resellers if you don’t block them from doing so. As an example of how much value Google sees in getting knowledge of what you’re doing and where you’re doing it, they paid Apple $8bn recently to remain as the default search engine for any browser that’s running on an Apple device!

Incidentally, if you clicked on that link you might have been asked whether you wanted to accept cookies – what exactly are they, and what do they do. This article from Norton explains what they do quite well …

Essentially, they record what you do on a website so that when you return to it some of the settings are remembered and applied. Cookies do however also have a downside in that some can also act to track your activity once you’ve left the site. For that reason, you should disable in your browser the ability of third-parties to glean information from a cookie, and also to prevent them tracking your activity once you’ve left the site. You can at anytime, clear the cookies from your browser, and indeed on some internet browsers set them up to delete cookies when you leave (close the window) the site. The browser I use – Firefox – alerted me the first time I went to the site to the fact that Norton was using a Fingerprinting cookie itself …

Another thing you should consider is whether you want adverts to be shown, or not. You might get a request to enable adverts when you visit a site, the answer you supply will be held in a cookie in the browser – that’s how cookies work. Firefox, Brave and Microsoft Edge, by default, block most, if not all, adverts. These are often annoying and having a browser that blocks adverts, or if you use Chrome – using an ad-blocker like AdBlock Plus often makes for a more “pleasurable browsing experience” by limiting the intrusion you might feel upon your privacy.

Which brings us to browsers and search engines

Search engines are not created equal! Whilst Google is often thought to be the same as the internet and is often mistaken to be an internet browser itself, it is in fact just one of a range of possible search engines that you can use to look for information on the internet. It uses a platform called Chromium to display the results of its searches to you through a browser called Chrome. However, other browsers – Microsoft’s new Edge, Brave and Opera all use the same underlying Chromium technology – the difference being they don’t track what you’re doing “to present the content that most meets your needs” (Google’s philosophy) and in some cases (eg Brave) they can actually prevent tracking of your browsing history. For the reasons given above, I use either Brave or Firefox as my internet browser and I’m leaning more to the latter nowadays as it seems quicker and more secure as well.

So what safe and private search engine could you use as an alternative to Google. I use DuckDuckGo

… but others I could have used might have been Bing, Yahoo or another one you might choose from this article or the list of other articles at the end of it …

There are many specialist search engines (as explained in the above article) that can give you much better, and more targeted results than a broad-spectrum Google search.

Finally, no discussion of Privacy can ignore Social Media and Facebook in particular. These applications, if left to their own default settings, are effectively personal information mining engines. They grab what information they can from you, and sell it on to whoever is willing to pay for it; or are indeed the platform for data mining, vis the Cambridge Analytica affair.  Online retailers are not exempt from this and Amazon for instance has a wonderful record of your browsing history! Are you sure you know what it’s doing with that information? So look at this table taken from a recent Which? supplement – Staying Secure in a Digital World – and just check whether you need to change your settings if you use any Social Media apps …

So that’s Privacy dealt with.


Should you be frightened?

The take away message I want you to have is Frightened – no; cautious – yes!

Online banking is very secure – a recent survey in Which? produced the following scores …

… plus you are protected and most of the banks are increasingly opting to adopt an online and mobile guarantee to refund you where you’ve been the innocent victim of a fraud. Here for instance is Barclay’s “Online and Mobile Banking Guarantee.”

They really don’t want to shell out money, so they are trying to educate us to be wise to scams. So let’s take a scam test

Banks are also often supplying software free (or at reduced cost) for you to install to protect your machine, to protect you from fraud – and of course themselves from having to pay out! I was recently offered a piece of software called Malwarebytes by the NatWest and although I have an Apple Mac computer which are well known to be relatively secure from Viruses, Spyware, Trojans and other malware, I installed it. I was pleased to note that I didn’t have any malware on the machine.

Surprisingly you might think … it’s safer to use the mobile app on your phone, or tablet to do online banking and retail purchases than a web browser. This is because the app on the mobile device has to be verified by Google for Android (Google Play Store) or Apple for iOS/iPadOS (Apple Store). Whereas a browser could be infected, or compromised with malware. [That’s something I’ve learnt whilst preparing this post!!!]

When you’re out and about and NEED to do an online transaction from your mobile – use cellular rather than WiFi. The latter can be really open to “sniffers”. [I must admit I try to avoid doing online transactions when away from a domestic network.]

Whilst we’re at it, you might like to think about doing a Detox on your phone, and even consider installing Firefox as the browser of choice rather than Chrome (Android) or Safari (Apple) on your mobile device …

So we come to phishing and pharming, vishing and smishing – I kid you not! We’ll leave aside spear phishing because we’re not important enough for that – it’s used to target “corporations” and individuals within them! [Please excuse me not going into details on any of these. You can follow the links for further information.]

However the most scary scam I’ve been made aware of is one that befell a member of my family when they were distracted sufficiently to become the victim of SIM swapping.

I discussed this with the Cardiff U3A Computer Group last June and you can  read the updated post here.


What should you do to protect yourself?

Some of these pieces of advice are really quite straightforward, but some require some intervention by yourselves.

  • Keep your operating software up to date. This is particularly true if you’re a Windows user, and even more true if you are still running an older version of Windows than Windows 10. If you’re using Windows XP, Windows Vista or even Windows 7 you should seriously consider disconnecting your machine from the internet because even if you’ve got anti-malware software running this is probably not protecting you against the latest threats.
  • Install anti-malware, or anti-virus software, particularly if you’re a Windows user. Don’t pay more than you need to. Windows Defender from Microsoft is Free and for our demographic relatively undemanding and unsophisticated users, more than sufficient. Keep it up-to-date as well! [As I said previously, your bank might be offering free software as well.]
  • Keep the software you use regularly up to date as well. Consider removing any software from your machine that you don’t use – this is because software vulnerabilities are discovered sometimes quite a while after the software was first released. It will also save you disc space!
  • Be cautious over installing extensions into your browser. These are often extremely useful and valuable tools, ie password managers, Dropbox, note taking, Google Back up and Sync, but if you don’t get them from the official sources then you might be importing vulnerabilities, eg spyware and trojans to your system.
  • Very seriously consider logging-out from social media and other retail sites when you’ve finished using them, especially Facebook, you just don’t know what tracking and logging of what you do, even where you are, if you leave yourself logged in on a mobile device.
  • Free software is both a boon and a curse. Only download open source software from a reputable site such as Softpedia, and never try and get proprietary software for free. Read this article about Free download sites if you want to know more.
  • Remember the golden rule 1 – if it seems too good to be true, it probably is, so steer clear!
  • Remember the golden rule 2 – don’t speak to strangers (an oldie but goldie that one); in other words if you don’t know where an email has come from – ignore it; if the website address looks a little strange – do an internet search on the company or organisation to check if the address you’re looking at is a spoof of the proper one.
  • Have more than one email address. Use one as your personal address, then use other ones that you can “throw away”when you need to register to a website, but you’re unlikely ever to go back to it again. Or have an email address (UserID) specifically for online purchases. Splitting things like this reduces the risk of you being the victim of fraud.
  • Seriously consider using an email service that is NOT connected to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). If you decide to change your ISP, and you should review them periodically, then you will have real problems if your email address is linked to their service!
  • You’ve got Spam filters running? Of course you have – but you better check! Probably your ISP, or email provider (eg Gmail, Yahoo, Microsoft Outlook or Hotmail) is filtering out what it thinks is spam, but occasionally some gets through. If that’s the case then you can always look at the real sender of your message. Take a look at the examples below …

You can also apply filters to divert incoming email into different folders in your email system. That reduces the amount of Junk that you need to review. [I’ve also advocated using the “native” email application for your device rather than rely on the web-based service the email provider has. Thus on a Windows device – use Windows Mail (or Outlook); on a Mac use Mail. You can then easily synchronise your email between devices from multiple email accounts. Tidy!]

So we come to Passwords …

… this is the point at which you need to consider intervention and changing your behaviour! You might also need to do a fair bit of work, but it’s worth it if you want to have a secure internet experience.

Let’s just see what using an insecure Password can lay yourself open to. Type in the word Password, or ABC123 from the link above – frightening eh!?

The most common password I use – and I know I shouldn’t reuse the same password, but I am human – has not been discovered on any pwned site. Phew!

What about the combination of your email address with your password – has that been “pwned” (ie stolen through a data breach)? Try typing your email address into the link above.

Oh no! I’ve been pwned … but it was a long time ago and I’ve changed my password many times since then!
Ah! That’s better – my “throwaway” email and passwords are “safe”!

And if you want to see a list of which websites have been breached, it’s alarmingly long!

So … use a unique password for everywhere you sign on. There’s lots of tricks to achieve this; some of which I wrote about in a post quite a long time ago …

… but the real change of behaviour is to use a Password Manager – again I wrote about this a little while ago and linked it to using Two Factor Authentication, which is also covered in the same post …

Password managers

I use LastPass, but other common ones are Dashlane and 1Password. Please make up your own minds after reading some Reviews and seriously consider using one.


Slides from talk given to Bridgend U3A

Keeping safe online

Slides from talk given to Cardiff U3A

Staying safe online

References

These may not be available in your Public Library, hopefully that isn’t the case.

… but these are available … Which? webpages – Scams & older people

I seriously do recommend signing up for the Which? Scam Alert Service – sign up for an email alert – and I seriously recommend you NOT broadcasting other people’s warnings to you about scams; they could be old, they could be inaccurate, they could be scams in themselves.

Look on the Age UK webpages – Staying safe in your digital world and specifically How to stay safe online

Your bank will undoubtedly have Internet Security webpages. Mine has a Security Centre web presence and particularly they provide a number of Fraud Guides

I could give a million references to changing your privacy settings on Social Media, but here are a couple relating to Facebook, perhaps the most challenging service of the lot.

First – what Facebook unchallenged will want to get from you. You are able to disable (prevent) all or some of these … Sign up for Facebook – this is not sign-up site, it’s just one to educate you on the privacy you might give up without realising before you sign up (but of course you can run the checklist at any time); then How to change settings on Facebook and finally Securing Facebook: Keep your data safe with these privacy settings.

How do you delete photos from Google Photos?

Seems a pretty easy question to ask. Should be a relatively easy question to answer. Wrong! It’s a minefield of complication and you can quite easily find yourself deleting images from places you don’t want them to be deleted from. In this article I’m not going to even attempt to enter the minefield but after this easy one …

How do you delete photos from Google Photos on the web but not from the Camera Roll on your iOS (iPhone/iPad) device …

Google Photos will only delete photos from your Camera Roll if you grant it permission to do so.  If you delete from https://photos.google.com/ and then go to your phone app you will have an assistant card asking for permission to “Remove it from this device”  If you dismiss the card the photo will remain in the Camera Roll.

… I’m just going to refer you to these three articles …

First the generic article that covers all eventualities and takes into account the place of  Backup and Sync in the process for the Android world

How to delete Photos from Google Photos but Not from Phone

note the important piece of text in this article …

“While keeping a file on Google Photos and deleting it from a device is easy, it’s not simple to do so the other way round. When you delete a synced photo from the Google Photos app, it gets wiped from your phone and the cloud storage.”

… so take care and read what follows in that article.

For the iOS (iPhone/iPad) world

How to Delete photos from iPhone but Not from Google Photos

… so heaven help you if you’ve got both Android and iOS devices; the process is not the same for both!

Lastly, and to fully understand what’s going on, it’s important to perhaps try to understand how Google Photos actually works. You can do this by reading this article …

What happens when you Delete photos from Google Photos.

… if that hasn’t made you feel suicidal, can I just wish you the best of luck. Perhaps buying a new phone, or taking out a Google One subscription is the only answer.

Could that be the reason why it’s so complicated to delete a Photo from Google Photos?

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You might also find these articles from Google useful. Firstly an introduction to Backup and Sync and how it works with photos and videos (hint, it doesn’t actually do any sync’ing) …

Back up photos and videos

… then, a guide to help you work out what size of image/video you might want to backup and sync (or upload) to Google Photos on the web …

Choose the upload size of your photos and videos

… you perhaps need to refer to this post to see why this might be important.