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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Controlling Windows 10 Autoplay Settings

Autoplay settings in Windows 10

‘Autoplay’ in Windows was originally designed to automatically open removable media that you have plugged into your computer, such as CD/DVD or USB media – it was meant to speed things up for you, but it has had a checkered history.

In the old days, putting in a CD/DVD or USB media with Autoplay switched on was a good way of passing viruses from one computer to another, as viruses were automatically executed when the media was opened for you. This is why good security programs today either automatically scan removable media when inserted, or ask you to allow it to do so, but some programs are better than others and some may not stop a virus from executing itself in time.

Later versions of Windows switched Autoplay off by default and Windows 10 asks you what you want to do, when removable media is inserted. However we do see customers that switch it back on, for ease of use but this does pose a risk.

Even today, it is recommended that Autoplay is switched off. You can do this by going to Settings > Devices and select ‘Autoplay’ on the list on the left. Toggle the Autoplay switch to ‘Off’, Autoplay will be disabled and you will not see the pop-up window again. This allows you or your security software to scan the removable media before opening.

Alternatively, or you just find that annoying, the next safest thing is set Autoplay to ask you what to do every time media is inserted, rather than automatically opening it. In Windows 10 you can actually select different actions for different media, for example you can set memory cards to import photos from your camera (which is unlikely to be infected). The settings for this are in the same section as described above, and you go to the ‘Choose a default’ for each media showing in the list.

There is also even greater control of individual media by going to the ‘Autoplay’ setting in Control Panel, where you can choose a default for many more options such as Pictures, Video, Audio etc. that may be present on your removable media.

Rather than just automatically opening media, the final thing that you can do is to set Autoplay to open the media in File Explorer – but as some viruses reside in an area of removable media that is read when opening its file list, this is not that much better than automatic opening. We would recommend scanning all removable media before opening it in File Explorer.

Every day people are using the same USB drive in their home and office/business computers, or putting removable media into their computers that has been used in a friend or relative’s system. This means that the weakest point is the danger point for compromising the security of your computer – so the friend/relative that may not have a good security program, or a compromised office computer are routes to computer infection.

The last thing you want is to have your computer disinfected, so it pays to reduce the risk where possible.

If you would like help in securing your computer or believe that your computer may be infected, give us a call on 01455 209505.

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Security – 4 Ways to Travel Safe for Your Business

or aMobile Security for your Business

Working from anywhere is now as simple as accessing the internet on any number of devices. Managers, owners, and employees are all embracing the flexibility of working while travelling, making it the new norm.

But while you were in the office, you were protected by professionally designed firewalls, security infrastructure, and robust software. As soon as you step away from the building, those protections disappear, leaving your device and the data inside at greater risk.

Cyber attackers love to collect any data they can obtain, often preferring to hack first, assess value later. It doesn’t help that almost all data can be sold, including your personal details, those of your clients and suppliers, as well as your proprietary business data. These days, the information stored on your device is usually worth much more than the device itself.

Here are 3 ways a hacker will attack:

Making use of Opportunity – getting hold of the device

Whether an employee left their laptop at a café or a thief stole the phone from their pocket, the outcome is the same – that device is gone. Hackers will take advantage of any opportunity to gain access to a device, including taking them from hotel rooms and even asking to ‘borrow’ them for a few minutes to install spyware, before handing it back.

Have you ever handed your smartphone to a stranger, asking them to take a photo for you?

Spoofing a Wi-Fi Hotspot

We’ve all come to expect free Wi-Fi networks wherever we go – we can even create them ourselves using smartphones. Hackers will take advantage of this trust to create their own free, insecure network, just waiting for a traveller to check a quick email.

When they do, they can monitor traffic and if your device is not secured, hackers can obtain all sorts of information.

Intercepting an Insecure Network

Hackers don’t need to own the Wi-Fi network to steal content from it. Data travelling across an insecure genuine network is visible and available to anyone with the right software.

Taking these four precautions will help to increase cyber safety and help to protect your business data while on the move: –

1.    Make a backup before you travel: In the event that your device is lost or damaged, you’ll be able to replace the device with a new one and quickly restore all the data from a backup, all with minimal downtime. (Also bear in mind that many devices have a remote delete or lock function in the event of a theft – if yours does you may want to consider it).

2.    Don’t use public Wi-Fi: Wait until you have access to a secure network before going online – even just to check email.

3.    Use passwords and encryption: At a minimum, make sure you have a password on your device, or even better, have full drive encryption. That way, even if your data storage is removed from the device, the contents are inaccessible.

4.    Act fast after loss: If your device is lost or stolen, immediately notify the appropriate people. This might include your IT provider so they can change passwords, your bank so they can lock down accounts, and any staff or colleagues who need to be aware of the breach, so they aren’t tricked into allowing further breaches.

So much personal, financial and business information is now held on our mobile devices that they are a potential goldmine for the wrong people. Think objectively and try to minimise the risk now, because a cyber breach is happening to someone else whilst you are reading this – don’t let it be you.

Need help with mobile cyber security? Call us at 01455 209505.

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Beware – the fake TalkTalk Scam is Still Going Strong

Keep your computer secure from scammers

A couple of years ago, TalkTalk made the news after admitting that they had been hacked and large amounts of customer private data had been accessed illegally. At that time there were a number of scammers pretending to be from TalkTalk, phoning people trying to get remote access to their computer by saying that they were infected or their emails had been hacked.

The idea was to convince people into paying them a lot of money, by accessing their computers to either create a problem (to pretend to fix), to syphon details to be used later in ID and bank fraud or just to scare the customer.

Scammers are back

We are now seeing an increasing number of cases where scammers are using the TalkTalk excuse but are even more believable, by giving information that a customer would assume could only be from TalkTalk. For example, customers who have had problems with their emails and who have contacted TalkTalk about it, who have then got a call from the scammers.

Even if these calls are just a coincidence, and that the contact information they are currently using is from the original hack, we strongly suggest that all TalkTalk customers be extra vigilant anyway as these people are very believable and make a lot of money doing this. This also applies to ANY other company that calls you out of the blue, as TalkTalk is not the only company name misused by scammers in this way.

Remember that TalkTalk would never call you to ask for passwords, or contact you out of the blue to ask to remotely access your computer for some reason. Also, they could not tell if your computer is infected or not without examining it, so they would not call you to tell you that it was.

What to do if they call

If you do get a call from someone saying that they are from TalkTalk (or other company), no matter how believable, do not let them access your computer. Go to the genuine company website, get contact details and call them, to make sure that the person you are talking to is genuine.

Also, remember that remote connections can be used legitimately too and you should not be put off using it – just be especially careful who you allow to connect remotely to your computer and you should be ok.

If you think that you may have already been scammed or just want help, give us a call on 01455 209505.

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Is Anti-Virus Enough These Days?

Is Anti-virus protection enough these days?

Not too long ago, everyone was warned about computer viruses and ‘Anti-Virus’ became the in-word when it came to computers, because the last thing you wanted was for someone to cause damage using a virus program.

Since then, criminals have jumped on board the malicious software scene and big money can be obtained from data – especially yours.

Increasingly the media are telling us that there are more threats than basic viruses now, things like ‘Ransomware’ (a malicious program which encrypts your files so that you cannot access them again without payment), software aimed at stealing your credit card and identity data, telephone scams using remote software, plus others.

Protection – what can you do?

Clearly, if you want to go on the internet you do need anti-virus protection but unfortunately, protection from free programs is not enough these days. Yes they are definitely better than nothing, but you have to ask yourself if big corporations such as Yahoo and TalkTalk can get hacked, maybe minimal protection compared to paid-for protection, is not the way to go.

A good paid-for security suite is the minimum these days and even then, you have to be careful about what websites you visit, emails you open and what you download.

The One Anti-Virus Rule

Traditionally, the rule has been that you must only have one anti-virus program running at any one time on your computer. To have two anti-virus programs was definitely not recommended, as they compete with each other and at the very least slowed your computer to a crawl, if not actually corrupting your data. We have come across many computer systems with two or more anti-virus programs which have caused problems. That was up till now.

There is now a product called Malwarebytes, which has been designed to actually run alongside your traditional anti-virus program, without causing the problems as before. It compliments your current protection by looking for the ransomware / malware-type of threat and assists in the protection of your system by concentrating on the non-traditional danger to your computer, without causing problems having two protection programs.

As it is a paid-for product it runs in real time, bolstering the protection of your system. As the threats particularly of Ransomware are becoming a problem, especially for businesses, it is recommended to seriously think about adding to the scope of your protection.

Ultimately, no protection system is guaranteed 100% effective as they are always catching up with the “bad guys”, but it is worth considering whether or not one protection program is enough these days, bearing in mind online banking and other day-to-day internet use that involves sensitive personal and financial information.

If you do decide to go down the additional protection route, we can supply Malwarebytes at below retail prices, so if interested give us a call on 01455 209505.

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5 Ways to Extend the Life of your Laptop

Entend your laptops life

Laptop computers are one of the most fragile pieces of tech you’ll ever buy, but they also receive the roughest treatment. From the sensitive flat screen inside the lid to the spinning hard drive, there are components inside your laptop that do not take too kindly to excess vibration or pressure.

Extend your laptop’s life with these five easy tips.

Avoid sharp movements during use:

While some newer laptops have an SSD drive with no moving parts, many laptops still have mechanical drives which work a bit like a record player. Mechanical hard drives have multiple heads like a record player needle (although they do not actually touch anything) and data storage disk-shaped platters, like a record.

The head hovers just microns over the surface of the spinning disk reading the data from it and a knock can cause them to collide. Just like a deep scratch on a record, whatever data was on that section can be corrupted and lost, so movement should be kept to a minimum.

Make sure you always power down the laptop before moving it or packing it away. Whilst many modern laptops have anti-vibration technology which stops the hard drive heads when movement is detected, this cannot protect against sudden movement or continually placing the laptop on a hard surface, causing vibration.

Keep it cool:

Your laptop has 2 ways of telling you when it’s too hot – the fan and auto-shut off. Each component in your laptop is generating heat, and the harder it’s working, the more heat each component creates. The fan runs to blow that heat out of the vent and keep the components cool enough to continue operating.

Because there’s no clear temperature indicator, your fan volume is the best guide to monitoring laptop heat. While the laptop is working hard (and getting hot), the fan will spin faster and louder. It’s not uncommon for it to sound like a hair dryer at times! Help it out by keeping your fan vent clear of books, blankets, and other blockages.

Modern laptops should automatically power down if they get too hot but you shouldn’t let it get to that stage, as excess heat over a prolonged period can cause internal damage or a reduction in the laptop’s working life.

Respect the power cords:

Inside those robust looking power cords are a bunch of delicate wires, begging you to be gentle. You’d think they should be able to take a beating, get bent, twisted and run over with chair wheels, but unfortunately not. Keep cords clear of sharp or flat-edged items, and when wrapping for transport try to mimic how it came out of the box. Wrap the cord gently around itself or the power adapter and secure with Velcro or similar.

If your original power cable no longer works, be careful when buying a replacement adapter if it is not a manufacturers model, which can be expensive. Universal adapters are freely available with multiple removable heads that can fit various makes of laptop, but getting the correct fitting isn’t the only important thing – it’s the voltage.

If you turn your laptop upside down, there is usually a label on the underside (or sometimes under the battery) which indicates the correct voltage for the laptop. Some universal adapters can go above the common 18.5 / 19 volts and if they do, it can cause damage to your laptop. Double check the voltage needed and check the universal adapter voltage setting before powering it up.

Carry it padded:

Look for a bag that not only fits your laptop but also provides padding. If it is shut down, your system will endure countless bumps and bangs as the bag is moved around, even with careful use. Ideally your bag should have side, bottom, AND top padding, as well as a waterproof outer. If backpacks aren’t your style, look for padded or hard-shelled sleeves.

Back it up:

Laptops give us fantastic mobility but as mentioned above some parts are quite fragile. While a backup won’t make your laptop components last longer, it will make minor repairs that much easier. You’re more likely to take it in for a service if your data is accessible elsewhere, and of course, in the event of accident or theft, you’re fully prepared.

Consider an off-site backup for additional protection, so no matter what happens with your laptop you still have your important files.

Call us at 01455 209505 to give your laptop a life-extending service.

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Making Computer Issues a Thing of the Past

Managed services

We repair many computers and laptops each week, but unfortunately this is often ‘closing the barn door after the horse has bolted’. Computers have a habit of dying at the worst possible time – like when an important project is due tomorrow, or before you copy family photos to a backup.

We’ve combined our repair services with preventative measures aimed at preventing this happening to you. Our managed IT services are called ‘Proactive Care’ and can remotely take care of all the computers in your house or office, helping to protect you against both threats and system failure.

Here are a few things that form part of the protection package.

Anti-virus always up-to-date:

While many computers have anti-virus software installed, they don’t often have the latest virus and threat definitions. These systems are at risk every minute they spend online, as the anti-virus simply will not pick up and stop an unknown threat if it doesn’t have an up to date list of things to look for and these lists are updated many times a day.

‘Proactive Care’ makes sure that your anti-virus definitions are always up-to-date, keeping your computer secure against even the newest viruses.

Software patches:

Hackers like to spend their time figuring out new ways to break into computer systems. Software companies like Microsoft and Apple release regular patches to close these security holes. The patches are supposed to be applied automatically, but we often find that isn’t the case – patches didn’t download, were cancelled or produced an error.

Our services involve remotely checking that each patch has been applied successfully, and troubleshooting if required. As an added advantage, any time new features are packaged into an update, you’ll find them already installed for you.

Early failure detection:

Some parts in your computer send out alarm bells when they’re about to die.

Unfortunately, they’re not literal alarm bells (that would be too convenient), but rather information in the background that needs to be interpreted or manually checked. We can monitor these and advise if repairs are required.

For example, hard drives which store your information do eventually wear out, but they’re one of the parts that send out early failure warnings (unless the fault is a catastrophic one). We can monitor this and give you ample warning so that you have time to back up your important files. When it’s time, we’ll work with you to arrange drive replacement, making sure to either clone or re-install your operating system, whichever suits your needs best.

Tune-ups:

Even the most cared for computer will slow down over time. Hard drives become cluttered, operating systems corrupt and ghosts of uninstalled programs still remain. We can remotely schedule and run a regular maintenance routine that will keep your system running in good condition.

Our managed Proactive Care service happens entirely behind the scenes, so there is no disruption to your experience. You simply enjoy the benefits of having your own IT specialist team at one flat, low cost.

Start with managed IT services today – for more information give us a call on 01455 209505 or visit our Managed Services page.

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Windows 10 – Microsoft reveals the Data it collects

Windows 10 logo

With the forthcoming launch of the Windows 10 Creators Update, Microsoft has released more information about the amount of data it collects from your computer, and sends back to Redmond.

A lot has been much said about Privacy issues with Windows 10 since its launch, although it’s fair to say that Apple and Google similarly scoop up data from your devices too. This time, Microsoft are saying that they are cutting down on the amount of data that they collect with this latest update and the details of what they actually do collect makes interesting reading.

What data they collect now

Windows 10 Home and Professional versions currently have two levels of data collection – Basic and Full.

Basic Mode is supposed to collect data on your hardware, records of crashes, how good your internet connection is, driver software usage, what apps you have installed and how they are used, as well as other things that are diagnostic in nature.

Full Mode collects the data from Basic level as well as things like your “inking and typing data” (yes that’s right, typing data) and records of system events. In certain circumstances they can get copies of user documents that have caused software crashes and run diagnostic tools on your computer, although there is a set of rules that apply before they can do so.

What data is collected after Creators Update

In Basic Mode, a lot of diagnostic technical information is sent over (see this although it’s written in geek) which is supposed to help Microsoft identify potential malware infections and the causes of crashing, to help them make the operating system more reliable. Also collected will be details of your hardware including the serial number of the machine, data on what applications are given administrator access permissions, your battery life, what mobile phone network you are using, and some other things.

Full Mode has not been explained as fully as Basic Mode, but as well as everything in Basic it includes data relating to your browser choice, the apps that you use to edit videos and images, user settings and preferences, what apps you have installed, internet addresses (URLs) that have triggered errors, total time reading eBooks, visited webpages, the list of peripherals attached to your computer, text typed in searches, words you have spoken to Cortana and more.

There has been a third option, where telemetry data can be switched off but that has only applied to the Enterprise, Education and other specialist versions – if you are using the Home and Pro version, you’re stuck with either Basic data collection or the Full package.

Microsoft emphasises that data collected is intended to be primarily for diagnostic reasons and the Creators Update will make it more explicit what data is collected, so you will be able to make more informed decisions when setting things up after the update. Having said that they are also being more transparent on what data is collected for marketing and advertising purposes too.

The jury is out as to whether privacy continues to be a thorn in Windows 10’s side and certainly some governments are taking an active interest into what information is actually being collected from peoples’ computers and why. The unfortunate thing is that users will not have any choice – if you use Windows 10 you will have data collected, possibly on a substantial scale.

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