Category Archives: USB

Stay Safer with 2FA and a YubiKey



In the past couple of weeks I’ve received three notifications from haveibeenpwnd informing me that a couple of organisations didn’t do a good enough job keeping my info secure. While it’s always going to be a good idea to change your login and password, any sites that use 2FA significantly reduce the value of stolen credentials (as long as you’ve signed up for the 2FA option!)

What’s 2FA? Two Factor Authentication. Still not clear? Maybe you’ve used a web site that’s texted your phone with an extra number or code that needs typed in before you are let in to your account. That number is a “second factor” and you’re using 2FA to get into the web site. Excellent choice. 2FA is good because it means that even if ne’er-do-wells steal your details from a sloppy site, they don’t have access to your phone, so they can’t get any further. However, SMS authentication is not perfect – there are some vulnerabilities typically using “man in the middle” attacks.

If you want to take your online authentication to the next level, you might want to consider a physical security key for your second factor. This isn’t a key like you’d use in a lock, but a USB key that doesn’t look too dissimilar to a memory stick. A good example is Yubico‘s YubiKey 4 series range, which supports a wide range of protocols including “FIDO U2F, smart card (PIV), Yubico OTP, Code Signing, OpenPGP, OATH-TOTP, OATH-HOTP, and Challenge-Response” and can be used with many of the big names like Google, Facebook and Dropbox. The keys can be used for authentication when logging onto PCs too (depending on OS, version etc.)

As an end user, you don’t need to know all the technical stuff, only that it’s a very safe way of authentication and it’s simple to use. To get started, you first associate the security key with your account, and the next time you try to logon to the service, you’ll be prompted to insert the security key into a USB slot (or swipe for NFC keys). You can use one key for multiple sites.

Yubico provides YubiKeys for different use cases. There’s the standard YubiKey 4 which is designed to go on a keyring (keychain) and works with USB A. The YubiKey 4C  also goes on a keyring but works with USB C. The 4 Nano and 4C Nano are smaller and are intended for semi-permanent installation in USB A and C sockets respectively. For NFC applications, such as suitably-equipped smartphones, there’s the YubiKey NEO. Physically, the keys are tough. Allegedly, they can go through the washing machine and get run over by a car, though I didn’t try any of these.

Here I have a YubiKey 4 and 4 Nano (shown left) and they both work in the same way – the only difference is the size and what you touch to activate the key. Let’s take a look at getting Google setup with a YubiKey.

Login to your Google account, say via Gmail. Click up on the top right where your “headshot” is and then click again on “My Account”.

Head on into “Signing in to Google”. I’ve blanked out a few sensitive items.

2-Step Verification is what you want. Hopefully, you’ve already got this turned on but if not, go ahead and get this sorted out. This page shows the factors you can use for 2FA. Security keys are topmost with text messages and backup codes below (not shown).

Click on “Add Security Key”.

Get the YubiKey ready and insert when instructed. Hit Next.

On the YubiKey 4, the “Y” logo on the key will flash – tap with your finger to confirm. On the Nano, tap inwards on the end of the key. Once the YubiKey has registered, you can give it a name.

And that’s it – all set and ready to go. The next time you login to Google on a computer that you haven’t used before you’ll be prompted to insert your YubiKey to prove who you are. Super secure!

Other services are similar. Here’s part of the Dropbox procedure.

And Facebook…

Supported sites are listed here and you’ll recognise a good few of the names.

If you can see the benefits of secure 2FA, the YubiKeys can be purchased from the Yubico online store. The YubiKey 4 is US$40 and the 4 Nano is US$50, with similar prices in GB£ from amazon.co.uk.

The 4 series can do a whole lot more, and if you just want the basics, then a YubiKey 3 at only US$18 is a good start. I personally bought one of these awhile ago to secure my Google account.

Thanks to Yubico for providing the YubiKeys for review.


iClever BoostCube 2-Port USB Wall Charger Review



USB chargers are two-a-penny these days but often they are cheap knock-offs with poor quality transformers that either pose a fire hazard or fail to deliver the required current to quickly recharge a smartphone or tablet. For not much more money, iClever offers a CE-marked UK spec wall charger with two USB A ports, delivering up to 2.4A from each. Let’s take a quick look at the IC-TC02.

The charger goes with the fairly standard design of a small cuboid connected to a power plug – I guess this is the BoostCube. This isn’t a travel charger (at least not in the UK spec), so there’s a three pin plug which doesn’t detach or fold up. Having said that, it does only weigh 82g. The charger appears well built and has a high gloss finish which makes some of the photos look a little odd because of the reflections. Hidden blue LEDs in the ports give off a soft glow.

The iClever BoostCube solves nicely the two device problem by having two charging ports. Many people have both a smartphone and a tablet so either two chargers are needed or one has to be charged before the other. Both ports will supply up to 2.4A each and iClever’s SmartID technology will ensure that the right current flows to the device.

I tried the charger with a couple of devices and encountered no problems. There was warmth to the transformer under full load but nothing close to being hot. Charging rates were as expected.

The iClever BoostCube 2-Port USB wall charger is available from Amazon UK for GB£8.99 at time of writing.

There’s an unboxing video below.

Thanks to iClever for providing the charger for review.


Where Are The Desktop SSD’s?



Windows logo blueI have a Compaq desktop PC that’s a few years old that is handy for tasks such as doing taxes or writing articles with. Unfortunately, it came with Windows Vista. More than a year ago I installed an inexpensive 128 gigabyte SSD in it. The SSD sped things up dramatically to the point where Vista was actually usable. To be honest, apart from being a bit of a resource hog, Vista has been quite stable on this machine.

While doing my 2016 taxes I received an on-screen Microsoft notification warning me that the Vista “End of Life” date is April 11, 2017. That presented me with a dilemma. Should I pay for the upgrade to update the Compaq to Windows 10? Or, should I just replace the machine with a newer model that came with Windows 10 preinstalled?

If I were buying a new machine, I would insist on an SSD. Unfortunately, after a bit of looking, it seems that desktop computers with factory-installed SSD’s are as rare as hens teeth and if they are offered at all they tend to be on the pricey side.

The other problem is that the old LCD monitor that’s attached to the Compaq is VGA only. I would have to also have an HDMI to VGA adapter unless I wanted to replace a perfectly functional monitor.

PC manufacturers complain that PC’s just aren’t selling very well. Have they ever thought about the fact that the models they are offering for sale tend to be mediocre? How about offering a $500 desktop tower that has a reasonable processor, a reasonable amount of RAM, and a 128 or 256 SSD?

Is that too much to ask?

In my opinion the SSD offers one of the biggest performance boosts of any upgrade ever, and yet PC manufacturers seem to be mindlessly failing to utilize it to excite consumers with. I’m afraid it doesn’t make any sense. Why should the consumer get excited about machines slowly booting from spinning hard drives that offer performance that is, from a perception standpoint, not that much different from the Windows machines on sale in the same stores a decade ago?

The only excuse for the lack of SSD-equipped desktop PC’s that seems to be offered is that customers “expect” one terabyte or larger drives on which to store massive amounts of pictures, music, etc. I don’t know if that is true or not. Personally, I stopped storing my stuff on my computer hard drives starting upwards of three years ago. I use a network-attached, Internet-savvy Western Digital MyCloud drive to store all of my digital stuff on. I also employ multiple inexpensive large spinning drives as redundant back-up drives. All of my 8,000 plus pictures are additionally stored with Google Photos for instant access to every picture I’ve ever taken right from my phone. I use my computers as creation and manipulation tools and NOT as mass storage devices.

In the end, I opted to go the cheaper route and buy a copy of Windows 10. It came on a USB thumb drive. It installed just fine on the Compaq. Everything seems to work, with the exception of an old Canon scanner that Canon offers no Windows 10 driver for. The loss of the Canon scanner is not a problem since my HP all-in-one WiFi printer can handle any flatbed scanning needs I might have. It did a large Windows update, and I installed a couple of things such as Dropbox and TurboTax 2016. The Compaq won’t win any speed competitions, but it’s poised to continue to do chores such as taxes until October 14, 2025, Windows 10’s scheduled end of life date. By then it might be time for a new computer.


Choetech 50W 6-Port Desktop USB Charger Review



Choetech LogoIt’s a real first world problem – finding enough USB charging points to keep your gadgets powered up, especially for families with multiple phones and tablets. Fortunately there’s a solution in Choetech’s 6-port USB-A desktop charger which combines two QC 3 ports and four smart ports that will deliver up to 2.4 A for charging thirsty smart phones and tablets. Let’s take a look.

Choetech 50W 6 port charger

This is the Q3-4U2Q model and the packaging follows the standard Choetech style of branded outer sleeve with plain cardboard inner box. Inside the carton, there’s the 6-port charger, desktop stand, USB-A to USB-C cable, power cable, instructions and help sheet. The instructions are largely superfluous other than to confirm the charging voltages and currents for the USB ports.

Choetech 50W 6 port chargerTo be clear, the Q3-4U2Q is only a USB charger: it’s not a USB hub and won’t connect a mouse and keyboard to a PC. There are two Quick Charge 3.0 ports for devices that support the QC standard and will deliver the higher voltages required.The other four smart ports will charge up to 2.4 A at 5 V and the charger will deliver 50 W across all six ports. The tongue inside the QC ports is helpfully coloured blue and an LED lights up to show that the charger is powered on.

Physically, the charger is about the size of a fat pack of playing cards – it’s roughly 9 cm x 7 cm x 3 cm. The charger is covered in a soft rubber coating except for the back panel and a small area at the rear. There’s a figure 8 two pin power socket on the back. The Q3-4U2Q fits snugly into the desktop stand which does make it look much neater than if it was simply lying on the desk.

Choetech 50W 6 port chargerIn use, the Choetech charger performed as expected – devices seemed to charge at their maximum rate, whether that was 1 A, 2 A or QC, and was able to provide power to all the connected tablets and smartphones regardless. For transparency, I wasn’t able to test this with a QC 3 device but it worked fine with a Galaxy S6 (QC 2). At one point I had a OnePlus 2, two Nexus 9s, a Motorola Xoom 2, a Chromecast and a USB battery pack all running off the charger. It got a little warm at full pelt, but certainly wouldn’t describe it as hot.

Overall, the Choetech Q3-4U2Q is a competent six port charger with QC 3 support. While I liked design and feel of the charger, there’s no single feature to mark it out from the many competitors. QuickCharge support is good for the latest phones, the stand is handy for a desktop charger and it seemed well enough made, so it’s definitely worth considering. If interested, the Choetech Q3-4U2Q is currently for sale on Amazon for GB£20.99.

Thanks to Choetech for supplying the Q3-4U2Q for review.

 


Topop USB C to 3x USB A and LAN Adapter Review



The physical USB type A interface connector seems to have been around forever and to be fair, it’s had an impressive lifespan starting with USB 1.0 back in 1996. Since then, the communication standard has been updated several times and the connector is still very relevant with USB 3.1 which now sports transfer speeds of up to 10 Gb/s.

USB type C is the latest connector design providing high speed data comms in a neat reversible design. So neat that a couple of manufacturers have ultraportables with a single USB C port. No USB A, no ethernet, no video. Looks great but a pain in the port if there’s a pile of cables to plug in. Accessory makers have stepped in to address the problem and here we have the Topop USB C to three USB A 3.1 ports and RJ45 Gigabit LAN adapter.

As the unboxing video shows, the adapter arrives in plain packaging and it’s a fairly functional device: this isn’t brushed metal milled from a single block of aluminium to complement the MacBook. It’s a sturdy matte black plastic . In terms of ports, there are three USB 3.1 type A ports on the top and a Gigabit network port on the far end. A short cable terminates in a USB C plug.

Topop USB C Adapter Topop USB C Adapter

Having three USB A ports and a network port is very useful on these minimalist devices. Who has a USB C memory stick? And there are always wireless dead-spots. The Topop adapter gets out of these predicaments.

However, I discovered quite quickly that the presence of a USB C socket on a device does not guarantee functionality, so check compatibility on the website and assume that the adapter only works with phones, tablets and laptops mentioned. Believe me, it doesn’t work with the OnePlus 2, 3 or Google Pixel C, but find a device that is compatible (Apple Macbook, Google Pixel Chromebook) and the adapter will work fine.

Topop USB C Adapter Topop USB C Adapter

Priced just under GB£20, the adapter’s in the right price bracket for the features that it offers. There’s no doubt that the Topop is a handy gadget to throw in a bag for occasional use, though if I was looking for a dock-lite on my desk, I think I would pay more for a better match to my laptop. Of course, your aesthetic requirements may differ.

Thanks to GoldenSwing for providing the Topop USB C to USB A 3.1 and Gigabit LAN adapter.


Choetech 33W USB-C Car Charger Review



Choetech LogoGenerally USB car chargers fall into the dull but essential class of gadgets and with today’s power-hungry smartphones, they’re more essential than ever.  The market’s in a state of transition too, with new USB-C and various fast charging technologies vying for supremacy. On review here is Choetech’s 33W USB-C Car Charger (TC0002), which is a little misleading as the charger not only has USB-C, there’s a USB-A port too which supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0. Let’s take a look.

Choetech Car Charger Box

The packaging is minimal with the TC0002 held in a plain cardboard box with the branding on a card slip cover. Inside the box there are only three things; the charger, some instructions and a help sheet. The charger is much as you’d expect with a short barrel for the 12V power socket which them morphs gently into a slightly rectangular face with the two USB ports. The design is pleasing and there’s a small blue LED located between the ports which lights up to show that there’s power. When inserted into the power socket, the charger protrudes by about two  centimetre, perhaps a little less – see the picture below of the charger installed in my car (yes, my car’s a little dusty).

Choetech Car Charger Install

The USB-C socket will supply 5V at 3A, and the USB-A sockets supports the Quick Charge voltages of 5V, 9V and 12V with output currents of (up to) 2.4A, 2.0A and 1.5A respectively. Obviously you need a QC supporting smartphone or tablet to take advantage of the higher charging rates and everything else will use their standard 5V rating.

Choetech Car Charger

I plugged in a range of different devices from a OnePlus 2 to Samsung S6 (which is only QC2) and Nexus tablets. All charged at what I would characterise as their fastest rate and it didn’t seem to matter to the charging whether there was one device or two plugged in.

In summary, the Choetech 33W car charger is the ideal car charger for those who need both USB-A and USB-C charging. The neat and unobtrusive design will fit neatly in most cars, I imagine, and the blue light is handy for locating the sockets in the dark. Currently on Amazon.co.uk for GB£10.99, it’s competitively priced too.

There’s an unboxing video below, but annoyingly there’s a pulsing background noise. Sorry.

Thanks to Choetech for supplying the charger for review.


Choetech USB-C Power Adaptors



Choetech LogoChoetech USB C chargersAs USB-C becomes more prevalent, it’s unsurprising to see non-OEM vendors start to produce power adaptors for this new standard. On review here are two Choetech USB-C power adaptors designed for the UK power sockets. No, I don’t know how to pronounce Choetech and their marketing rep was non-committal too, so I will leave that as a linguistic exercise for the reader.

First up the Choetech 3A Rapid Wall Charger that has a single USB-C port. Available in black, the TC0001 provides 3A at 5V from a reasonably compact unit though it protrudes around 4.8 cm from the socket. In use, the adaptor appeared to recharge my phone at the expected rate. Here’s an unboxing video for the charger and a USB-C cable.

Next is the Choetech 39W USB-C Power Adaptor. Again designed for UK sockets, this has two USB-A sockets top and bottom, and a USB-C port in the middle. There’s a small blue LED at the very top too. The TC0013 is bigger than the TC0001, extending about 5.4 cm from the socket which is unsurprising given the larger power output. The USB-C will provide 3A and the two USB-C powers will charge at 2.4A each. At full pelt, the charger did get warm but not so hot as to cause concern. Both the TC0001 and the TC0013 are CE marked which gives some level of safety reassurance.

The Choetech USB-C Fast Charger is available from Amazon for £13.99 and the 3 port Power Adaptor is £15.99. Both are worth considering if you are looking for a USB-C charger but I think I would go for the 3 port charger for that extra flexibility.

Thanks to Choetech for the supply of the review units.


ChargeHub at 2016 CES



chargehub-round-red-1Scott Ertz interviews Rock Smeja, vice president of operations for ChargeHub. They discuss the ChargeHub, which is a round 7 port USB charging hub. You can charge up to 7 USB devices simultaneously while being connected to one power source, either AC house current or and included automotive 12-volt adapter.

The ChargeHub is priced at $59.99 and is available at many different retailers such as Best Buy, Staples, Amazon, etc. The ChargeHub value pack, which includes USB cables and the 12-volt car adapter is priced at $89.99.

The ChargeHub is designed to communicate with many different types of devices and has high enough wattage that it can adapt to charging as fast as any particular device can accept a charge.

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Griffin BreakSafe Magnetic USB C Power Cable



Griffin LogoMagnetic power couplings are a godsend for the clumsy and accident prone, snapping away under stress and preventing physical damage to cables, connector and laptops. Owners of new USB C devices, such as the latest Apple MacBrook or Google Pixel, have had limited choice up to now but at CES, accessories outfit Griffin announced a new BreakSafe magnetic USB C power cable. Available from April for US$39.99, it’s pricey compared with a standard USB C cable, but think of the magnetic coupling as an investment in protection for your expensive laptop.

Daniel J. Lewis is the host of the award-winning podcast about podcasting, The Audacity to Podcast. Daniel helps others launch and improve their own podcasts for sharing their passions and finding success.

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Griffin iMic for USB C



Griffin LogoGriffin’s iMic has been a long term favourite with those who need 3.5 mm audio jacks on USB-only PCs and laptops. With a USB A plug on one end, and two audio sockets on the other, it does the job of converting audio brilliantly.

But with new MacBooks now only sporting USB C sockets, it was inevitable that Griffin would bring out a new version of the iMic with a USB C connector and here it is. Available in Q2 2016 for US$44.99, Daniel chats with Jackie from Griffin to find out more about the latest iteration of this great gadget.

Daniel J. Lewis is the host of the award-winning podcast about podcasting, The Audacity to Podcast. Daniel helps others launch and improve their own podcasts for sharing their passions and finding success.

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