Author Archive for CSH – Page 2

Surface Laptop – no more Repairs?

Surface motherboard showing integrated parts

For some time now, many technology products have been produced which have severely restricted upgrade and repair options – when something goes wrong it’s usually straight back to the manufacturer. Whether its cost cutting during the manufacturing process or for some other reason, manufacturers have deliberately been producing devices that have fewer repairability options compared to previous devices.

One well-known example is Apple products which are notoriously difficult to repair anywhere other than at an Apple store (and in many cases they just send the device back to the manufacturer anyway) – third party repairers are not exactly welcomed. Whether it’s a special glue that holds the glass screen in place, special tools being required or for some other reason, the ability to repair and also to upgrade is becoming much more controlled, but not by the user.

It now looks as though Microsoft are following suit, as their Surface laptop has been given a lower repairability rating than the previous version – it simply isn’t meant to be repaired.

Starting with no screws, the case needs to be pried apart and the external fabric has a high chance of being torn in the process.

Once inside, things like battery and keyboard are glued to the case. There are a number of thermal pads attached to the internal circuit board (motherboard) which are likely be damaged and needing replacement due to opening. Upgradeability is pretty much nil, as the CPU (processor), RAM (memory) and storage are all soldered to the motherboard, unlike in the past when customers could increase performance and storage by replacing them.

Some may say that this makes sure that repairs are controlled by the manufacturer, which is a fair point. However the other side of the coin is that in the past you could, for example, get a laptop keyboard replaced fairly easily, but even this basic option is no longer available on many devices.

Similarly, upgrading to more RAM has been fairly easy to do for many years and short of replacing the CPU, is the second best way to speed up performance – but if you can no longer do this, then replacing the whole unit is more likely.

Whether or not you agree with restricting customer options, the fact is that this trend is likely to continue. So when purchasing, you need to bear in mind that any repairs (if at all possible) would need to be done back at the manufacturers or their “authorised partners”, which means that the device needs to be sent away and you will not have it for some time, it will certainly be out of your hands longer than a local repairer.

Alternatively you may just get a replacement instead of a repair, which is okay so long as it isn’t a refurbished device that you get back or that in the process you no longer have important files that were on the old device – so backups are vital.

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CSH Computer Services is now a Which? Trusted Trader

CSH Computer Services is now a Which? Trusted Trader

We are pleased to announce that CSH Computer Services has now been endorsed as a Which? Trusted Trader.

‘Which? Trusted Traders’ is an endorsement scheme run by Which? that recognises reputable traders, who have to pass a rigorous assessment process carried out by Which? trading standards professionals. Information on the detailed assessment process that is undertaken can be found here.

After successfully passing the assessment process and having been endorsed by the UK’s largest independent consumer organisation, our customers can be reassured that they will be dealing with a company that they can trust and that will have consumer interests in mind.

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Voice Activated Products and Privacy

Microphones in Voice Activated Devices in the Home

For some time now we have had smartphones which you can talk to and get a response from, for example, Apple’s ‘Hey Siri’ and Android’s ‘OK Google’ – both very useful gadgets and which can greatly speed up the time it takes to get information.

Now, with the advent of in-home products such as Amazon’s ‘Echo’, the use of voice-activated devices in the Home is set to increase dramatically, so it’s fair to ask – are there any privacy concerns and do they outweigh the benefits of having such a useful device?

On the one hand, having a device that you can ask questions of as well as giving commands to, is clearly useful but the fact remains that to achieve this, the Echo contains an array of sensitive microphones that picks up audio from anywhere within range – certainly anywhere in an average sized room.

Unless you specifically mute the microphones, they are in ‘always listening’ mode.

The Echo doesn’t understand or process such audio itself – it sends it over the internet to Amazon’s data centres, which do the hard work in a fraction of a second and sends it back to the Echo device to respond back to you. However, and even though the Echo does not respond without hearing the trigger ‘Alexa’, the microphones are still functioning.

Similarly, the camera in the new ‘Echo Look’ – a camera-enabled device pitched for use in your bedroom or bathroom to help you with fashion choices – can also be switched off, but also has a default ‘always on’ mode.

The main privacy concerns relate to two main issues – security of the device and storage of voice data.

Security of the Device

Whilst Amazon has world-leading security at its data centres, we all know that if a device is connected to the internet then there is no such thing as 100% security – either there is a chance (however small) that the device can be compromised by hacking, or the data going to and from it can be intercepted.

It was revealed that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg covers the Webcam in his laptop with tape, as does a former FBI Director who calls it “sensible”, so how useful would audio information fetched directly from within your home, be to the wrong people?

Once your information is in the ‘Cloud’, then you have to accept that you no longer have 100% control of it.

Voice Data Storage

Like Apple’s Siri, previous Amazon Echo recordings are kept by Amazon in order to improve voice recognition accuracy, although you can delete them through your ‘Manage my Devices’ page (but this does mean that the Echo will not “learn” from your past interaction with it). If a device is storing at least some audio from within your home, you need to be aware that it is being stored somewhere else.

Also, bear in mind that you may accidentally use a similar word to one of the trigger words in general conversation, which means that it is possible that the device can actively detect what is being said without you even realising it.

What is clear is that the Echo is a useful device and will no doubt be the first of many interactive devices forming part of the ‘Internet of Things’, but also bear in mind that like much of the tech that we use on a daily basis, it is also a market profile data gathering device, in a similar way to smartphones. In fact, the company actually reserves the right to serve ads based on the data that the Echo receives from you, so don’t be surprised when one day you ask Alexa a question about something and you subsequently get ads related to what you have said to it.

The Echo and similar devices are now in the home, including in private areas, so we need to make an informed choice about what that tech can do for us, versus the possible issues and risks that such technology can bring with it. If you uneasy about ‘always on’ microphones then possibly such a device is not for you, but if you are aware of the risks, then you can make sure that you keep as much control as possible, e.g. use that mute button!

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NHS Cyber Attack – how to build up your protection

Malware terms

Here is some more information about the NHS cyber-attack that started on Friday.

The Ransomware variant is called WanCrypt0r and 81,000 infections were reported in the first 12 hours. It has not only targeted the NHS but has also gone for Banks, Telecoms and Utilities worldwide.

It has been established that the criminals are exploiting a known vulnerability in Windows (MS17-010)  which has already been patched, but those computers which do not have up to date Windows Updates are still vulnerable.

We have warned customers before about the Ransomware threat and the extent of this attack means that we should all consider increasing our defences, especially businesses but also homes, as Ransomware can be spread via emails.

As there is no way to guarantee 100% protection against threats, we have to make it as difficult as possible for the threat to take hold and how much you decide to do depends on the level of risk you wish to take.

1. Ensure that Windows Updates is kept up to date

Windows Updates contain security fixes (amongst other things) and computers that have not been kept up to date are vulnerable, as in the case in this attack. Admittedly Windows 10 gives you little choice when it comes to Updates (you have to have them) but if you are using any previous version of Windows – make sure that Updates are kept up to date.

If you are still using Windows XP or Vista, you shouldn’t be. These versions of Windows no longer get Windows Updates.

Update:
Microsoft have now issued a patch for XP and Vista. Go to this web page to download the patch if you are still using XP and Vista (demand is high so it may take more than one try). Please note – this patches this vulnerability only so you should still move away from these unsupported operating systems.

2. Make sure that you have a good antivirus product that is kept up to date

Good security products give a better degree of protection but they have to be kept up to date, with active subscriptions. Free antivirus is better than nothing but does not give protection that is as comprehensive as paid versions.

3.    Install extra protection.

Usually, you should not have more than one security product installed on your computer at any one time, but there is a product called Malwarebytes, which can be installed as well as your existing antivirus. This increases your protection especially from Ransomware, if you install the premium version.

4.    Consider your backup situation

If a computer is infected, the virus goes across a network and it is possible that any connected storage will also get infected – this includes cloud storage such as Dropbox. Having said that, Dropbox state that within 30 days of the event they can restore your files (here) and you can subscribe to extend the 30 days to 1 year if you choose. If you are using any other Cloud storage, check with them to see if they have a similar service.

It is vital that your important files are backed up and a copy kept separate from your computer. In the event of an infection, you can at least relax a little that your important data has not been encrypted.

5.    Consider downtime – system backups

When a computer has Ransomware, if you have backups of important files you will not need to pay the criminals. It is likely that the computer will need to be wiped clean and Windows reinstalled, which takes time.

There is software available that can take a copy of your whole computer, which could be used to reinstall the whole system in much less time than a full reinstall. A copy once every 2 or 3 months would allow you to get back up and running in much less time.

As mentioned earlier, many viruses are spread through emails, so never click on links in emails and do not open attachments unless you know that they are genuine emails – if in doubt call the sender.

If you would like help with any of the above, give us a call on 01455 209505.

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Mac Computers and Viruses – Truth versus Myth

Compromised app containing a virus

We have lost count of the number of times that we’ve heard the phrase “Macs don’t get viruses” or “I’ve never had protection on my Mac”. Whilst this may have been true in the past it isn’t as cut and dried today and the Mac OSX operating system actually can be vulnerable, so protection is worth seriously considering especially in a work or business situation.

More difficult to exploit

The Mac is based on the UNIX operating system (as is Linux) which is more difficult to exploit as it is built on a sandbox-type principle, where malicious code cannot usually get as far as it might get in a non-UNIX based system.  Also, Apple has built in a certain degree of malware prevention in the Mac, for example their ‘Gatekeeper’ software actually blocks apps that have been downloaded from the internet (i.e. anywhere other than the Apple Store) that do not have a Developer ID supplied by Apple certifying that they are safe to use.

Unfortunately, in spite of this robustness the Mac is now becoming a victim of its own success because its increasing popularity means that cybercriminals are paying more attention to it – and finding ways of making money from you even if you are a Mac user. It’s not just that popularity – Macs are usually much more expensive to buy, so the cybercriminals may believe that Mac users are attractive targets.

Not impossible to exploit

For example, a popular Mac DVD-ripping and Video Conversion app called ‘Handbrake’ was recently compromised, by criminals hacking the software company download server and inserting malicious code into the app download. When this download was installed on a Mac, it also installed a ‘backdoor’ (a means of bypassing security). The user then was asked for their administrator password, which was passed over the internet in plain text so that the criminals could access any part of the system from that point.

By successfully avoiding having to use the ‘direct attack’ approach, this allowed important information such as password keychains and browser data to be extracted and passed to the crooks.

This compromise has now been corrected and the infected code was from a download between 2nd and 6th May 2017. If you have installed Handbrake version 1.0.7, check the SHA1 checksum of the file by opening a Terminal, typing in shasum and dragging the installation file into the Terminal Window.

If the checksum is 0935a43ca90c6c419a49e4f8f1d75e68cd70b274 then the file is malicious.

To disinfect it remove the Launch Agent plist file fr.handbrake.activity_agent.plist, and the activity_agent.app file located in ~/Library/RenderFiles/. Reboot then change your passwords.

In the past year or so a Ransomware-type malware was discovered for the Mac, so this isn’t the first time that there has been a potential issue.

Even though the Mac is more robust and secure than its main competitor, it is by no means invulnerable to malicious code and it is a risk to think otherwise. You may feel that the risk is small enough to continue to use your Mac as you always have, but at least consider the pros and cons first – as well as being very careful about where you get your apps from.

If you would like help in securing your Mac, give us a call on 01455 209505.

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Windows 10 Edge and Internet Explorer – More Adverts on their Way

More Windows 10 adverts

With the amount of information passed back to Microsoft in Windows 10, such as the ‘Advertising ID’ feature, many people expected that they would use that data at some point – after all Windows 10 was given away free for a whole year. It now seems that the data has begun to be cashed in.

The latest Windows 10 ‘Creators Update’ will bring various changes as described in our previous Blog article here but it seems that the Update will also be pushing more adverts toward users, through the Edge browser, Internet Explorer and even File Explorer.

When opening Edge, “Where to next” is displayed and now there will be so-called “Sponsored” adverts too. When opening both Edge and IE you will also see a ‘Top Sites & News Feed’ tab with these ads – not just for Microsoft products but for third party products too.

File Explorer (previously known as Windows Explorer) has already displayed some adverts for Microsoft Office and similar products from Microsoft, but people are now also seeing third party adverts in this too – in an essential and basic Windows tool that everyone uses and where you wouldn’t normally expect it.

Of course, it’s no surprise that any company would want to make money from advertising, but this is essentially the start of Windows becoming a monetising product for its makers, when previously it was an Operating System only. It may also be Microsoft just testing the water.

You may not be bothered about the level of adverts or suggestions/nags, but if you are, what can you do if you don’t want ads popping up all over the place?

Stopping Ads in File Explorer

Open File Explorer > View > Options. Go to the View tab and look in Advanced Settings section – uncheck ‘Show sync provider notifications’, then click OK.

Stopping Advertisement App Suggestions

If you don’t want ‘suggested’ apps appearing in your Start Menu, go to Settings > Personalisation > Start and switch off ‘Occasionally show suggestions in Start’.

Stopping Ads on the Lock Screen

Yes, even before you log in! Go to Settings > Personalisation > Lock Screen and set the background as ‘Slideshow’ or ‘Picture’ instead of ‘Windows Spotlight’.

Also, go to the bottom of the window and disable ‘Get fun facts, tips, and more from Windows and Cortana on your lock screen’.

Stopping Cortana Nagging You

Cortana the personal assistant tries to help users – sometimes a little too much – with constant popups making suggestions that sometimes end up just getting more annoying than useful.

Click Cortana bar > Settings icon and go to ‘Let Cortana pipe up from time to time with thoughts, greetings, and notifications in the Search box’. Disable ‘Taskbar Tidbits’.

Stopping the ‘Get Office’ Nags

A ‘Get Office’ app is automatically installed and which regularly makes a suggestion that you try Office 365 free for a month – but you may not want it to keep on asking.

Go to Settings > System > Notifications & Actions, scroll down a bit and switch off notifications for the “Get Office” app. Alternatively, you could also right-click the app on your Start Menu and select ‘Uninstall’.

Solitaire Ads

Windows still has the built-in Solitaire game, but you also get a 30-second advert unless you pay Microsoft $10 a year. If you don’t want to pay, you will have to get an alternative via a search engine – but be careful where you download from.

These are just a few ways to reduce the advert clutter from your Windows 10 Creators Update computer. No doubt things will change in the future and there may even be more adverts as well as more premium content along the lines of the Solitaire game, but only time will tell.

If you would like help in de-cluttering your computer, give us a call on 01455 209505.

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How Many Good Battery Habits Do You Have?

Extending your battery life

Batteries are rarely talked about – until they’re drained – then we’ll tell everyone as we beg desperately for a charger, hoping to get enough juice to last the day. The truth is, they’re a miracle of engineering that gets taken for granted and cursed when flat.

When repairing customer laptops we often hear the phrase “the battery died after a year or so” and that was certainly the case with the older type batteries. Luckily battery technology has gone a lot further and Lithium-Ion batteries are the main battery of choice today, together with longer lifespan and longer useful working charge.

If it feels like your battery is running out faster, you might be right. But it’s not because of ‘battery memory’ and needing to be cycled (that’s an older battery type called NiMh), it’s because the modern Lithium-Ion batteries in phones and laptops just simply wear out over time or get affected by heat. Fortunately, extending your battery life is easier than you think!

Which of the following GOOD battery habits do you have?

Charge whenever you can:

Lithium-ion batteries don’t like being charged all the way up and then drained all the way down. No wonder, it even sounds exhausting. Give them a little charge here and there, and they’ll be happy.

Leave your laptop plugged in:

You are very unlikely to over-charge the modern battery, it will just sit there waiting to be used. The laptop also helps out by cutting the flow of power when the battery registers as fully charged.

Watch for overheating:

Your laptop battery won’t overcharge, but it may overheat. You might also consider removing the battery if you’re using your laptop plugged in all the time. Yes, you might lose data if there’s a power outage, but overheating is a far more common occurrence and it’s been proven to degrade battery life considerably. Check your vents are clear with good airflow, and if necessary, help it out with a cooling laptop stand.

Leave your phone plugged in all night:

Just like your laptop, your charger knows to stop when the battery is full. Those chargers do generate heat though, so make sure you have enough airflow around both charger and phone, and never cover them up with anything.

Charge batteries before storing:

If you’re one of the lucky few with backup batteries, make sure to give them a half charge before storing. They’ll naturally discharge and age over time, so this gives them a fighting chance to still be viable when you need them.

Keep your cool:

We know to avoid water with our phones, but we’re less careful about exposing it to heat. This includes leaving it in your car all day, placing it on top of your PC, or even in a sunny spot by the window.

Wireless and rapid chargers can also be an issue, as the amount of heat they generate will affect your battery.

Keeping your Lithium-Ion battery happy is easier than you think. Your battery will wear out over time, but you can push that day a few years into the future if you remember to keep it charged and keep it cool.

Having battery issues? We can help! Call us at 01455 209505.

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New Windows 10S to Target Chromebook Education Market

Windows 10S for Education Sector

Microsoft are about to release a trimmed-down version of Windows 10 called 10S, aimed at the Education market which up to now has been taken over by Google’s Chromebook.

Traditionally, Windows had the Education market in its hand due to its lower Academic version pricing (which was much cheaper than retail) for Windows and Windows software such as Microsoft Office. Then the Chromebook came along with its cheap price tag together with its ‘locked down’ operating system making it harder for students to cause much damage. This was ideal for school administrators who wanted to get a working computer at the lowest price, which could also be set up quickly and securely.

Windows 10S will be released on Microsoft’s Surface Laptop as well as some computers from Samsung, Toshiba, Dell and Acer in the near future, and they will be pushing these offerings to the Education sector.

There are ‘pros and cons’ with the release (as you would expect) and what is good for administrators may be cause for complaint by others.

Locked Down and Faster booting

Windows 10S will be ‘locked down’ because only apps from Microsoft and the Windows Store will be allowed to be installed, so schools can relax in the knowledge that it will be less likely for students to be able to install malicious or other unwanted software.

It has also been designed to increase battery life and have a faster boot time, which you would expect with a thinned out version of Windows.

The downside is the reduction of choice – if it isn’t a Microsoft app or in the Windows Store, it will not be available for installation, which gives Microsoft effective control on what is and isn’t used on its machines, although the Chromebook did give Google a large amount of control too.

Another downside will be that schools will no longer be able to use free alternatives to expensive software such as Photoshop, unless Microsoft allow it.

An Upgrade route will be available

The release announcement stated that it will be possible to upgrade 10S to Windows 10 Pro, at a lower price. This may be useful but at the moment we are being told that it is a one-way upgrade – once upgraded you cannot go back and of course, it will not be classroom-proof any more. You will also lose the battery and boot time advantages too.

Cheaper computers in the future…?

Clearly the Chromebook is not just for classrooms and there is a big market for public consumption of a cheaper, trimmed down operating system that lets you do everyday tasks. This is why we expect that at some point Windows 10S (or a version of it) may be available to the general public at some point, for use in the less expensive part of the market. If or when this happens we will have to see.

With Google saying that they have half of the US education market and 20 million devices in education, there is everything to play for for Microsoft. Time will tell if it pays off for them but they are certainly going to give it their best shot.

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Helping to Control Spam in your Email

Getting rid of Spam in your Inbox

‘Spam’ emails get into everyone’s email Inbox and are a fact of life these days. Whether its “Russian Brides” or something else, Spam emails are annoying, especially if you regularly get a large number every day. It is not surprising that there is so much, as current estimates put Spam between 60%-80% of global email, depending on which report you read.

What many people do not realise, is that a lot of Spam emails are caught by your email company and discarded before you even get to see them – although some email companies filter out Spam much better than others do.

Having said that, there are ways to help reduce the number of Spam emails that you get – here are a few of them: –

Mark as Spam before doing anything

This is the most important thing. More often than not, we see that customers tend to delete the Spam emails, then carry on reading their ‘proper’ emails as normal – all this does is just delete it, so it doesn’t help you the next time they send an email from that address.

What you need to do is to mark the email as Spam, before deleting it. This tells your email company or email program what to do if this email address sends another email – that is get rid of it before you get it.

Email using Webmail

If you are using Webmail (getting your email through the email company website), mark the Spam email (usually on the left-hand side) and click on the Spam button, which may be marked as ‘Report’, ‘Spam’ or something similar. This identifies the email as Spam and tells the email company that you don’t want any more emails from that email address. The email company should automatically send any more emails from the same address, straight into the ‘Junk’ folder instead of your Inbox.

Email using an Email Program or App

Many email programs include a facility to mark an email as Spam. For example, if using Outlook, right-click the email(s) and select ‘Junk’. You will get options as to what to do, e.g. selecting ‘Block Sender’ (blocking just the email address) or ‘Block Senders Domain’ which will block all emails from the name after the ‘@’ symbol. Note that Outlook diverts emails into the Junk folder – they will still be coming from the email company.

Most email programs will have a similar method of diverting spam that has been received.

Many (non-free) security software programs include an anti-Spam facility, whether it blocks an email that it knows is spam using its own built-in spam filters, or “training” the program by marking the Spam emails and it blocks them for you in the future, in a similar way as above.

Businesses – hardware and online filtering

If you are a business with a business-class firewall, a Spam filtering facility can be included in the appliance, depending on the hardware device chosen, so speak to your I.T. person about this.

There are also ‘Cloud’ solutions that can route emails from your email company through the Cloud filters before you even get them – there are many solutions to choose from.

Third Party Anti-Spam programs

There are a large number of ‘Anti-Spam’ programs which say that they help in blocking and removing Spam – they are essentially adding another filtering layer for your Inbox. Having said that, you do need to check for compatibility with your email program or app, so research is essential, especially as some of these programs are more reliable than others..

As with all things, make sure that you have regular backups, in case the worst happens, but if you do nothing else make sure that you mark your emails as Spam, before getting rid of them.

If you would like help in battling Spam in your Inbox, give us a call on 01455 209505.

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Microsoft Says Don’t Download Windows 10 Creators Update Yet

Windows 10 logo

Microsoft has advised users NOT to manually download the latest update to Windows 10 – called the Creators Update – but wait for it to be downloaded in the normal automatic update rollout instead.

Despite the massive publicity surrounding the latest Update release, they are finding issues with it particularly with older machines, such as some components no longer working after the Update has installed. This is why they are automatically updating newer machines first and hoping to identify and iron out bugs before the older systems get it during the normal course of events.

Even though Microsoft are deliberately rolling out the Update slowly, users can download the Creators Update themselves so Microsoft are worried that the issues that they have found will result in normal (e.g. non-geek) users having difficulties should they install the Creators Update before Microsoft want them to.

The Creators Update is the equivalent of an operating system upgrade (Windows 10.2 if you will) and it is a major undertaking even without the threat of parts of your machine not working afterwards. Certainly many of us in the I.T. world remember the problems caused by the last big Windows 10 update (the so-called ‘Anniversary Update’ last year) and even though we have learnt the hard way not to jump into the next ‘latest and greatest’ straight away (there are always bugs to be ironed out) it is surprising that they have asked users to stop manual updating so soon after release, so there must be further bugs that they are dealing with.

On the positive side at least Microsoft are warning people and not just releasing code that they know will cause problems to many people, although it is still a pity that testing didn’t show these issues before the Update was released to the public.

It also doesn’t help when you consider that Home and Small Business customers are effectively testing the Update before Enterprise customers get it, as it will not be released to the Enterprise sector for months – until the bugs have been ironed out.

If you have installed the Creators Update already, there is a way to uninstall it until it is more stable, although be aware that some apps/programs may be uninstalled in the process.Of course, as always, you should take a backup of your important files first just in case.

Go to Start > Settings and click ‘Update and Security’. Click on ‘Recovery’ > ‘Go back to an Earlier Build’ or depending on how long ago it was, click on ‘Go back to the previous version of Windows 10’.

If you are experiencing problems with Windows Update, give us a call on 01455 209505.

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