Tech Q&A: Cloud safety, surveillance cams, selling old phones, and more

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Keep your data safe in the cloud

Q. With the recent iCloud hack, I'm worried about putting my information in any cloud service. Is it possible to keep my personal information safe online?

A. It's true that plenty of online services have been hacked, but in many cases - like iCloud - the weak point is actually the user's passwords and security questions. If you set up a strong password and security question that will reduce a lot of the risk.

You also want to be sure to use unique passwords on every account so a breach at one account doesn't put others at risk. To learn about other steps you can take like two-step verification click here.

Also, you should also understand what files actually benefit from using the cloud. This may be done by asking, "Will I use this file on my smartphone or laptop?" and "Do I need to share this file easily?" In some cases, you may decide i t is not important to even bother putting it out there in the first place.

Convert your webcam to a surveillance cam

Q. I am a mom who recently returned to the workforce. I have a new "after-school nanny" to watch my daughter until the end of my workday. How can I make sure that everything at home is OK while I am gone?

A. At some point, all of us have wished we could be in more than one place at the same time. And when it comes to checking in on our children, pet or even home while we're out, the idea becomes that much more important.

As you might imagine, good surveillance systems and cameras do come at a cost, but with some ingenuity, I have a pretty good idea to get around that - at least to serve as a stopgap if you need to save up.

If you have a laptop or desktop with a webcam, you already have pretty much everything you need. The next step is to get your hands on some good, FREE software to run your new surveillance system. Check out Sighthound and iCamSource because they both have versions for both Windows and Mac.

Just pick the software that best serves your needs, point your computer camera lens and, voila! You should be able to check in and, in some cases, even record what is going on at home while you are away. Learn more about setting up a web-to-surveillance cam conversion.

Sell your old phone for cash

Q. Can I cash in on the old cellphones that I have piled up in the kitchen drawer?

A. Recently, I explained why upgrading your phone every two years actually saves you money. Of course, that often results in an extra, used phone at your disposal - one that most of us would like to be able to turn into cash.

Before you do anything (beyond keeping it as a spare), you will want to wipe the old Android or iOS device hardware completely clean. You certainly do not want your personal information falling into the wrong hands.

Then, it is time to shop your phone. As you may already know, your phone provider may already offer you credit for your old device. If that's the case, you can take advantage of their offer. But if there is not some special promotion at the time you may be losing some value.

If instead you would prefer to see what the market bears, you can try "Sell on Amazon" or "eBay" which are great ways to move most gadgets. Or, if you want to do it quicker, think locally with Craigslist - just be sure to meet up in a public place. And if you need creative solutions to sell old or even broken phones, click here.

A dangerous app for teens

Q: I have teens with phones that never leave their hands. Are there any apps my kids might be using that are actually dangerous?

A: Yes, there are some apps out there that can be dangerous if misused. I recommend talking to your kids about them and checking their phones to make sure they aren't using them.

One of the most popular, and among the worst for your kids, is SnapChat, a self-contained picture message app that sends pictures that only last for a few seconds. The idea behind it is that you can send embarrassing or risqué pictures without the danger of having them hacked. Um, ever hear of a screenshot?

That's just scratching the surface. Learn about four more apps that are dangerous for kids.

Fix or replace your broken computer?

Q: My laptop is barely working; is it better to get it fixed, or buy a new one?

A: I will be the first to tell you that this is not always an easy decision to make with many different factors to consider. The first thing you should do is check out the warranty. Oftentimes, a customer will find that their computer is still covered. If it is, you have an immediate solution.

If you find that you are out of the warranty period, there are some credit card companies who offer extended coverage to their card users, so you may want to check with them as well. You may find that they'll take care of it for you.

Now, if it comes to pass that the full cost will be your full burden to bear, you have to first find out if your device is even repairable. If it is, techies generally live by what is known as the 50 percent rule. Basically, this says that if a repair will cost more than 50 percent of a new gadget's price tag, it is time to buy a new one. Get all the information you need to make a "fix or replace" decision you will not come to regret.

Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. To get the podcast, watch the show or find the station nearest you, visit: To subscribe to Kim's free email newsletters, sign-up at: