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Data Doctors Tips and Tricks



Computing Tips & Tricks



 



Can you recommend a home security system that doesn't require a monitoring contract?

Thu, 7 Dec 2017 00:00:00 +0700

The DIY home security market has exploded with Internet connected devices that can monitor just about anything in or around your home.If you’re willing to be the ‘monitoring company’ via your smartphone, there are numerous options that range from complete systems to various individual devices that can be used to create your own custom system.Self-monitoring means that if you sleep through an alert on your smartphone in the middle of the night, you won’t know about it until you wake up the next morning.It also means that you will have to decide when to call the police or 911 based on what you are seeing on your smartphone.Wired vs. WirelessYour first step is to access the areas that you want to monitor to determine if you have electrical power and wired or wireless Internet access.As Internet access goes, opting for wired devices over wireless devices can eliminate a common point of failure when Wi-Fi issues arise.Devices that plug directly into an electrical outlet also eliminate the possibility of a battery failure, but it can also limit where you are able to install devices.Complete SystemsIf you have a smaller home or apartment, you may be able to use one of the all-in-one solutions such as Canary (https://canary.is) or the upcoming Angee (https://meetangee.com).These single device security systems are simple to setup and can monitor motion, sound, temperature, and humidity while providing video streaming to show you what it’s seeing.  The primary device can monitor your primary living space with various sensor options for extending the monitoring area if needed.The popular SimpliSafe (https://simplisafe.com) platform offers a much larger variety of monitoring sensors that are still simple to setup because they’re all wireless. While they don’t require you to pay for their optional $15 per month monitoring service, you won’t get the full functionality such as controlling everything from your smartphone unless you do.  Their monitoring is month-to-month, so you have the flexibility to turn it on while you’re on vacation and discontinue upon your return.Lowe’s Iris platform (https://irisbylowes.com) offers a similar package including the ability to manage your devices remotely via your smartphone without having to pay for one of their monitoring packages.One of the more complete systems with a lot of options for tinkerers is from iSmartAlarm (https://ismartalarm.com) because it works with Amazon’s Alexa and the IFTTT platform (https://ifttt.com).Individual Device OptionsThere are a plethora of camera-based monitoring systems that range from the Ring Doorbell, Spot and Floodlight Cams (https://ring.com) to Nest Cams (https://nest.com/cameras) which can work with their optional alarm sensors (https://nest.com/alarm-system).For those needing completely wireless security cameras, both Arlo (https://arlo.com) and Blink (https://blinkforhome.com) offer wire-free devices so you can put them virtually anywhere you have a Wi-Fi signal.  The batteries generally last 1 to 2 years and both companies offer weatherproof options for outdoor use.If your Wi-Fi signal range is an issue, don’t forget about my previous suggestion to upgrade to a ‘mesh network’: https://goo.gl/MMbSuu [...]



Is it time for me to invest in Bitcoin and if so, where can I learn more?

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have long been the domain of the tech-savvy and rather confusing for the average consumer.  The confusion continues for most people, but with the massive increase in the value of Bitcoin since the beginning of the year, it’s getting a lot of people’s attention.

A single Bitcoin was valued at just under $1000 on January 1st of this year and by the end of November, it has popped up over $10,000 with new highs being reached almost daily.

I did a TV news segment in 2011 to try to help explain this ‘new currency’ (https://goo.gl/rNBiR6) and almost bought one just for the story. At that time, a single Bitcoin was valued at just over $3 – my loss!

It’s not surprising that anyone that simply looks at this at face value would consider it an investment opportunity, but this is far from anything resembling a traditional investment.

Wildly Volatile

Bitcoin has been extremely volatile from the beginning, with extreme changes to the value both up and down being commonplace.

Because there is no central bank, virtually any news story surrounding the use of Bitcoin from anywhere in the world can quickly impact the value.  In 2013 for instance, the value dropped in half overnight because of a change made by China’s largest Bitcoin exchange (https://goo.gl/Dkt3Yn).

There have been Bitcoin exchanges that have been hacked, shutdown by governments or in some cases, simply disappeared with the funds, so it’s far from a normal currency.  There are now more stable exchanges such as Coinbase (https://coinbase.com) backed by banks, large venture capital firms and even the New York Stock Exchange

The current run up has many predicting a crash, but the reality is that we are in uncharted waters when it comes to cryptocurrency.  Anyone that claims to know where all this is going is simply speculating based on traditional financial models, which really don’t apply to this new phenomenon.

But, with the massive acceleration in value of Bitcoin in such a short period of time, it’s easy to see why so many ‘experts’ are calling it a bubble that’s bound to burst.

Various Ways to Invest

Jumping into the frenzy and buying a fraction of one Bitcoin is just one way of getting started, but based on what has transpired recently, that seems very risky.

There are other cryptocurrencies besides Bitcoin that are substantially cheaper to buy such as Ethereum and Litecoin.  Coinbase makes it easy to buy any of them via their app if that’s your preferred method of investing/gambling.

There’s a decent chance that you’ll be able to invest through an ETF (Exchange Traded Fund) sometime in 2018 which will spread your risk over many different cryptocurrencies and the CBOE (Chicago Board Options Exchange) recently announced that it plans to offer Bitcoin futures and options in the near future.

Educate Yourself

Whatever you decide to do, educating yourself is essential.  There are many ‘beginner’s guides’ available online, so if you have a favorite financial resource, search their website first.




Is it safe to install iOS 11 and if I do, can I uninstall it if I don't like it?

Wed, 8 Nov 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) Apple routinely releases a new version of its operating system, better known as iOS, whenever it introduces new phones.

iOS 11, which is the most recent major update, was released on September 19th followed by a minor updates on September 26th (11.0.1), October 3rd (11.0.2), October 11th (11.0.3) and October 31st (11.1).

As of this writing, 11.2 is in beta testing and should be released in the near future as the common complaint of reduced battery performance seems to have cropped up as it has with many past versions.

Understanding Build Numbers

This version numbering sequence (build number) is a general way to denote improvements over previous versions.


With this being the 11th major version of iOS, we have seen a pattern with every new release that is helpful to understand.

When you see the first number change, say from 10 to 11, you’ll know that it’s major update with a lot of new features.  With major updates come lots of undiscovered bugs and security issues which quickly become exposed as millions of eager users install and use the update.

When you see a version change from X.0 to X.0.1, this usually indicates a very minor update usually focused on bug and/or security fixes.  When you see a change from X.0 to X.1, this usually indicated a relatively minor update often accompanied by a feature update or two along with the bug/security fixes.

If you look at the update history of all 11 versions of iOS, you’ll see that it’s not uncommon for the version to go through a large number of updates until the final version is released.

iOS 10, for instance, had eleven different updated before it settled on 10.3.3 as the finalized version.

Minimizing Issues

For the most part, if you look back at the historical update patterns, waiting until you see version 11.2 or 11.3 would greatly reduce your chances of being part of the ‘guinea pig’ pool that helps Apple identify issues and bugs.

No Going Back

In the first couple of weeks of the iOS 11 release, there were ways to revert back to iOS 10.3.3 if things were not going well, but they were pretty involved and required you to have a proper backup before upgrading.

As of October 3rd, Apple made a change to how it addresses reverting which made it impossible to go back to iOS 10 once you’ve gone to iOS 11, so there is no going back.

General Rule of Thumb

As with any update, not everyone is going to experience issues because we’re all essentially running a unique combination of hardware and apps.

Before you install any iOS update, you can always click on the link in the description to see what new features are being added and what bugs or security issues are being addressed.  If the new features aren’t that compelling (like new emoji) or you’re not experiencing any issues listed, holding off on the update makes sense unless Apple expressly denotes that it’s a serious security patch.




What exactly is the 'deep web' and how to you get to it?

Wed, 1 Nov 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) Despite many representations of a nefarious underground operating out of sight, the deep web is actually mostly benign private databases and web resources not meant to be accessed by the general public.

The ‘surface web’ is essentially what can be indexed by search engines like Google or Bing, while the ‘deep web’ consists of items that can’t be accessed using a search engine through a standard web browser.

Protected Internet databases like those for banks, anything past a log in screen, like your private files stored in the cloud and data stored by private companies aren’t indexed by search engines. Websites can also specifically tell the search engines that they don’t want to be indexed making them relatively ‘invisible’ to the average user.

Most estimates put the deep web in the 90% range of the entire Internet because so much of what is stored online is protected information that requires some form of authentication or knowledge of a hidden web address.

The Dark Web

There is a very small percentage of the deep web where secret and sometimes nefarious activity is taking place, often referred to as the ‘dark web’ or the ‘darknet’. The tools used to access the dark web focus on anonymity by incorporating encryption and specialized privacy browsers like Tor.

Tor, also known as ‘The Onion Router’, uses a large network of relays to bounce Internet traffic through; it’s much like the layers of an onion, to make it much more difficult for anyone conducting any type of surveillance to see who is doing what.

The core technology used in Tor was actually developed by the US Naval Research Lab in the mid 90’s for use by the intelligence community for protecting online communications. To this day, Tor and other similar tools are used by governments, activists and whistleblowers to communicate anonymously.

The Tor Project states: “Tor users include ‘normal people’ who wish to keep their Internet activities private from websites and advertisers, people concerned about cyber-spying, users who are evading censorship such as activists, journalists, and military professionals.”

Using Tor alone doesn’t mean you’re completely anonymous and for most users, the trade off in slow performance isn’t worth the increase in privacy for daily surfing.

Tor’s Dark Side

Tor and other similar tools are also being used for illicit activities such as buying and selling drugs, stolen credit card numbers, stolen IDs, money laundering and more via black markets only accessible on the dark web.

One of the most famous dark web marketplaces was called Silk Road, which was shut down by the FBI in 2013. The site’s founder, Ross Ulbricht, was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Despite law enforcements attempts to control illegal underground marketplaces, when one is shut down, two more seem to pop up.

To be fair, not all dark web resources operate in an illegal manner and much of the activity taking place is vital to our law enforcement and intelligence community’s efforts.  As with any technology, it’s impossible to control its uses for only legal purposes, so as always, it’s the good with the bad.




What's your opinion of the various smart firewalls?

Thu, 26 Oct 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) With the growing popularity of Internet connected devices in the home, like web cameras, thermostats, doorbells and lighting systems – often referred to as the ‘Internet of Things’ – securing those devices is a critical step in keeping them safe.

‘Smart firewalls’ are an emerging category of security products designed to help users protect all their connected devices.

The Latest Attack Vector

IoT devices are becoming a more popular attack vector for the underworld because of their sheer numbers. Current projections expect the number of IoT devices to exceed the number of mobile phones in 2018 with an estimated 18 billion IoT devices in use by 2022.

Hackers go for easy targets and with the relative lack of focus on security by both manufacturers and consumers, IoT devices are in their crosshairs.

Easy to compromise devices are being ‘recruited’ to become a part of an army of devices known as a ‘botnet’ that can wreak havoc in a number of ways. Botnets allow the controller to direct thousands of devices to attack a specific website, essentially making it inaccessible to real users (aka Denial of Service attacks).

Users of compromised computers and IoT devices rarely have any idea that their devices are being used for malicious purposes, which is where smart firewalls can help.

The recent discovery of the KRACK Wi-Fi security hole (https://goo.gl/4qv4ur) is just another reason to take security seriously, especially since some IoT devices can’t be updated to fix newly discovered security holes.

How They Work

Smart Firewalls are hardware based devices that can do a better job of managing lots of devices versus a typical software firewall. The ‘smart’ portion of the device analyses your network traffic in real time to identify threats or suspicious activity, block them and notify you of the activity.

This approach to network security is common in sophisticated business networks with tech savvy administrators that know how to configure powerful routers.

Smart Firewalls takes the need for tech skills out of the equation, because they’re generally pre-configured to start protecting your entire network as soon as you plug them in.

Early Stage Development

The first devices in this category started appearing in just the past couple of years, so we’re in the early stages of development.

Some of the early entrants like the Bitdefender Box (https://goo.gl/Rg1Yx8) are in the process of releasing their second generation products while the Cujo (https://goo.gl/AsbuhE) has received lots of praise for its ease of setup and use.

Another newcomer is the Norton Core (https://goo.gl/ueewTA), which is one of the more expensive solutions that’s so new that there not much of a track record for it.

Virtually every option available requires either a monthly or yearly subscription to provide their cloud based threat analysis, so make sure you include this ongoing cost in your comparisons.

There are devices that don’t require a subscription, such as the RATtrap (https://goo.gl/ztL6sT), but some users have complained about slower Internet speeds and it won’t work with modem/router combo devices.

This category of devices is so new, I’m personally going to wait a little while to see how things shake out before committing to any of the platforms.




Apple released the iPhone 8. What's new, what's improved and is it worth the upgrade?

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) Apple officially started selling the iPhone 8 (and 8 plus) on September 22, 2017 and we've had our hands on one for a couple of weeks now. At first appearance it looks and feel like previous designs (iPhone 6, 6s and 7) but it's what's inside that really counts! The exterior has the same physical dimensions, so existing users cases/accessories will fit and work as before (no need to upgrade those too)! The back of the iPhone 8 is glass now, but Apple insists that it is as tough as the aluminum backed phones of previous generations. Time will tell. The headphone jack is still missing (removed with the iPhone 7 gen) and the "home" button still isn't a "real" button (like the previous phone gen too) - so again, there's not a real "wow" factor to the the visible physical device. Under the hood, there have been LOTS of changes.

First, wireless charging has finally come to iPhone. It's been on rival phones for years now, so it's about time! True Tone tech adapts white balance to wherever you are at to keep colors "accurate" while viewing. Upgraded Bluetooth and cellular radios provide for more reliable connections. The cameras have been updated and feature a 12-mega-pix back cam and 7 mega-pix front facing camera. HDR mode is on by default now, resulting in better images. The iPhone8 seems to be edged out in low light shooing by the Samsung 8/8+, but only slightly. Slow-mo video in 1080p is awesome along with 4K video at 60fps looking so good, video almost looks not real! Finally, better speakers make for an improved audio experience.

While the iPhone 8 may not be obviously different from the outside, it seems to magically "just work" better. It's faster, smoother and more efficient thanks to the internals being completely reworked. While it's definitely the "Best iPhone yet", we can't help but look forward to the iPhone X set to release in early November 2017 - the device that's changing the rules when it comes to mobile phones. If you don't want to wait or want to avoid the $1000 plus price tag, the iPhone 8 may be just the phone for you!




What suggestions do you have for managing the mobile devices in our business?

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) It’s no secret that more business is being done on mobile devices then ever before, as mobile Internet access surpassed desktop usage for the first time back in November of 2016.

Since these devices have become so invaluable for conducting business, every business should be thinking about how to manage them.

Single Biggest Risk

The likelihood of a mobile device being lost or stolen is exponentially higher than a desktop computer, so planning for this eventuality is critical.

Since passwords and access codes are commonly stored in browsers and apps, anyone that gets their hands on an unprotected mobile device can instantly assume the identity of the victim and wreak major havoc.

Computers, tablets and smartphones that don’t require a password or passcode in order to use them should be strictly prohibited in any business.

Basic Protection Layers

Even with an access password enabled, a motivated thief can make their way to your sensitive data, so using some form of encryption and installing a remote tracking program provides additional layers of protection.

Apple devices running iOS 8 or higher are encrypted by default and Android users can search for ‘encryption’ in their Settings menu to activate it.

While both Apple and Google offer free tools that will allow you to track, lock down and remotely erase lost devices, they lack some of the more useful features available in third-party options.

Pictures Can Help Recovery

One of my long-standing favorites is Prey from https://PreyProject.com because it adds the ability to take screen shots on laptops as well as take pictures of the user from the camera(s) on any of your mobile devices.

This can become critical, because simply determining the general location of a device isn’t much help if it’s a huge apartment complex or a 20 story commercial building.  Your chances of getting any type of help from law enforcement goes up if you can provide more than just location information.

The free version of Prey covers up to 3 devices, but no longer includes the ability to remotely erase your data. You can either opt for their $5 a month package for that feature or use Prey along with the free tools offered by Apple or Google.

Large Scale Systems

If you have a large number of devices to manage, you’ll want a more sophisticated platform.  Prey offers customized business packages, but for a much more comprehensive set of tools, look to solutions such as AirWatch from VMware (https://goo.gl/4Fw6gM), Meraki from Cisco (https://goo.gl/V1g2Tw) or Intune from Microsoft (https://goo.gl/8gXQqt).

These tools dramatically expand your management capabilities to include limiting the mobile devices that can connect to your network, controlling what data those devices have access to and various tools that makes deploying and managing a large number of devices much more efficient.

These more sophisticated tools allow IT managers to better control what can be done when an employee is using their personal device for business without restricting their personal needs.

The cost of these more sophisticated tools can range from a per device charge (starting @$2.50 a month for AirWatch Express https://goo.gl/RUxP35) to a per user charge used by Microsoft.




How hard is it to convert from an Android smartphone to an iPhone?

Thu, 28 Sep 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) In the world of smartphones, the Android vs iPhone battle is similar to Ford vs Chevy with passionately avid fans on both sides.

However, converting from a Ford to a Chevy is a lot less involved then going from an Android to an iPhone.

The good news is that it’s a lot easier than it used to be, but you do need to do a little homework before you attempt the conversion.

Will It Fit?

Your first step is to determine what on your Android handset needs to be transferred to your new iPhone.  Unlike the iPhone, many Android phones have the ability to expand the base memory, so if you have a micro SD expansion card loaded with music and pictures, everything may not fit on a base model iPhone.

Apple charges $100 to $150 as a premium to go from its base model to the expanded memory options depending upon the model you’re buying.

Base models either come with 32Gbs or 64Gbs, so make sure you’ve done the math to figure out what will make it over.

Deleting the items on your Android phone that don’t need to transfer before you get started will make the transfer process less complicated, especially if you’re dealing with too much content to transfer.

Also, be sure you have the latest version of iTunes on your computer as well, as this will be your main management console for the iPhone once you’re done with the transfer.

Move to iOS App

Several years ago with the launch of the iPhone 6, Apple released an Android app called ‘Move to iOS’ (https://goo.gl/1hsNYy) to help switchers with the process.

It’s far from perfect, but it does take a lot of what used to be a manual process out of the equation (instructions: https://goo.gl/8uEZou).

The app only works if you’re transferring to an iPhone that has yet to be setup, so if you’ve already started using yours, you’ll either need to reset it (which wipes everything off) or move everything over manually: https://goo.gl/JJHukR

There are many limitations to what it can transfer over as well as the lack of converting various media files, so if things like auto-conversion of your music and videos, attachments in text messages, call logs, ringtones and other random files are important to you, it may be worth buying a program called AnyTrans (https://goo.gl/s4g7Hz).

AnyTrans, which uses your computer with both phones plugged in to get the job done, also lets you avoid having to reset your iPhone if you’ve already started using it.

Managing Your Expectations

Despite all of the advancements made in transfer options, you’re still likely to run into issues or glitches, so be prepared for a period of adjustments.

Also, keep in mind that all the apps available for the Android aren’t necessarily available for the iPhone and purchased apps often have to be repurchased from Apple.

If you use a lot of Google’s services, simply adding the iOS app for each and signing into your account should make everything ‘automagically’ appear on your new iPhone.




Is there a voice recognition system that can replace typing that actually works well?

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 00:00:00 +0700

(image) As much as technology has advanced since Bell Labs developed the ‘Audrey’ in the 1950’s, which could only recognize digits spoken by a single user, we’re still far from what you’ve seen in science fiction movies.

Commands vs Dictation

Voice command platforms like many automated phone systems use are reasonably effective because they severely limit the number of verbal commands you can use.

Natural speech recognition is what most people want and that’s a challenge that has yet to be met in a way for it to be widely adopted.

We’re surrounded by options that offer some form of voice command/recognition from Apple, Google and Amazon, but they are far from perfect, as we all well know.

Accurate dictation has been the challenge that many very sophisticated companies, including IBM, have been trying to solve for over 60 years.

To put the problem into perspective, a system with a 90% accuracy means that every 10th word is wrong. 95% accuracy gives us a 1 in 20 ratio and even at 98%, we’re still looking at roughly 1 in 50 words being incorrect.

With an average paragraph in the 100 – 150 word range, you can start to see how the time we may save in generating the text can get eaten up in editing what was captured.

Throw in that our voices change when we’re sick, various accents, the speed in which we speak and a host of other variables and you start to understand how much more sophisticated of a processor the human brain is.

The Context Problem

Another huge challenge is context, both in command and dictation technology.  Google recently started to bridge the context gap with their latest Google Assistant technology that allows you to have more of a conversation.

For example, you can ask ‘Do I need an umbrella today?’ and after it responds, you can follow up with ‘what about tomorrow?’.

Another advance in context is being made possible by what many consider the ‘creepy’ factor of today’s technology.  Since our smartphones can remember virtually everything we’ve done in the past, consider our current location or what we’ve been searching for online or in a mapping program, they can use this additional info to help better understand your verbal commands.

Tips for Being Successful

If dictation is your key need, the company that’s been at it the longest, as far as a consumer product goes, is Dragon NaturallySpeaking (http://dragon.com).

As good as the program is, expecting to install the software and have it magically become your new way of ‘typing’ will guarantee failure.  You are essentially going to be learning a new language in a sense.

If you aren’t willing to take the necessary time to train yourself to learn how to speak to your computer, you shouldn’t bother spending the money.

You’ll also need to make sure that you have the proper hardware to be successful, such as enough processing power, RAM and a good microphone, so be sure to review the system requirements before taking the plunge.




I'm ready to upgrade my iPhone, but I can't decide which way to go. Any tips?

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 00:00:00 +0700

There has never been a better time to be in the market for an iPhone as the current selection includes 8 different models - the entry level iPhone SE, 6s, 6s Plus, 7, 7 Plus, 8, 8 Plus and their top line X - that range in price from $349 - $1149.Start with Screen SizeIf you haven’t already done so, make sure you hold each of the phones in your hand and slide it into your pocket or pocketbook to determine the best fit from a form factor standpoint.Budget minded consumers that don’t care about larger screens, can opt for the 4” SE - the size of the original - for the new reduced pricing of $349 - $449 depending upon your storage needs (32GB – 128Gb).If you want a slightly larger screen (4.7”), then your choices are between the iPhone 6s, 7 and 8.If you want a phone with the largest screen size, then your choices are between the 6s Plus, 7 Plus, 8 Plus and X.CamerasiPhones have long been heralded for their camera technology, and unless you’re really into photography or super hi-res video, every model has a 12MP camera that can shoot 4K video at 30 frames per second (fps).If you’re a big selfie or Facetime fan, you’ll want to stick to the iPhone 6 or better as the front facing camera on the SE isn’t great.Water and Dust RatingsIf you spend a lot of time outdoors, especially near water and you want something that can take a bit more abuse, you’ll want to go for an iPhone 7 or higher as they all have superior water and dust resistance ratings.Despite the ratings for having your phone in 1 to 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes, you really shouldn’t plan on swimming with them.  Exposing your expensive phone to salt and chlorine water isn’t something I’d recommend without something like a LifeProof case (http://lifeproof.com).Newest FeaturesIf things like wireless charging, fast-charging, 60 fps 4K Video and the most powerful processors available are important to you, then you’ll probably be able to justify buying the iPhone 8, 8 Plus or X.Apple’s comparison site is an easy way to compare up to 3 different models at a time to help you weed through the specs: https://goo.gl/JeJJ7V.Purchasing OptionsThere are a plethora of options for buying new, used or refurbished iPhones, starting with Apple itself.Apple offers an annual iPhone Upgrade Program, which is best for those that have to have the latest model every year: https://goo.gl/vknWpT, look into their trade-in program for your older iPhones: https://goo.gl/W2nEQ3 or shop for deals in Apple’s refurbished inventory: https://goo.gl/M1CSFg.If your current phone is tied to a specific cellular provider, check to see what their current promotions are based on your eligibility.If you don’t mind a used iPhone, besides your cellular provider, there are a number of reputable resources that I’ve used to pay cash for a used phone including Glyde (https://glyde.com), Swappa (https://swappa.com) and Gazelle (https://gazelle.com).[...]