Search Engines – use with care

Search engine - use with care

In previous articles we’ve mentioned that as well as watching out for computer viruses, you need to watch out for ‘Potentially Unwanted Programs’- technically legal software used maliciously which may install a program without your permission, change your search engine, tracks what you are doing or many other things.

The people behind this malware are getting more clever in finding ways to get their software onto your computer and are even using search engines to help them – search engines that everyone uses every day.

Unfortunately we still find customers that have been misled when searching and have unwittingly gone to the wrong kind of website to download something from.

Check the actual website address

It may sound obvious, but when reading the search results, check the website address itself and not just the title or wording. You would be surprised how many people only look at the title or briefly read the paragraph under it and it is common that people have searched for something on a search engine, (such as printer software drivers for example) and some of the results are not genuine websites. The website addresses may be very similar, such as ‘hp-drivers.com’ instead of the correct ‘hp.com’ but they will not be the website that you want.

Some of these ‘almost’ websites are genuine, but many are not and when downloading from them, they can add unwanted programs (or worse) to what you download. As a lot of these unwanted programs are not illegal as such, they can sometimes be missed by antivirus software.

How do you avoid going to the wrong search result?

The important thing to remember is that you should not automatically assume that all the results of any search are genuine. You need to be careful what you click on, as well as what you download.

As well as being extra careful if you see the website address is not what you expect, many antivirus programs automatically check to see if a website has been reported as a potential danger and if so, will warn you. Sometimes the search engine itself may warn you too, but you cannot rely on being warned every time.

Antivirus programs may show a green icon alongside the website entry in the search list, telling you that the website is ok, which is useful – but that doesn’t mean that you must avoid any results which do not have the green icon. Many people are not aware that a website that does not have the green icon, may still be alright to visit – the fact that they do not have a green icon may just mean that they have not been added to the antivirus program ‘green’ list yet.

Stick to the original websites where possible.

If you are looking for software drivers for your computer, stick to the manufacturer website – this will ensure that you have the most up to date and malware-free download.

If you do not go to a manufacturer website to download something, try not to download drivers or programs from third party sites unless you have to and then only when they are well-known sites.

So called ‘Peer to Peer’ (file sharing) sites can be particularly problematic and again, you need to be choosy where you download from.

So long as you treat search engine results with as much caution as anything else on the web, you will be adding to your computer security. You don’t have to be paranoid – just be careful!

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Computer jargon explained

computer jargon

If you could afford it, would you buy an expensive car if you only drove it to the supermarket and no-where else? Of course not – you wouldn’t not want to pay for engine capability that you are not using, so why waste money?

The same applies to computers – don’t let sales jargon and the ‘latest and greatest’ specification fool you into thinking that you need to overspend. As we sell laptop and desktop computers, this is something we explain to customers every day.

Of course, Technology is always advancing but if you are using a computer just to go on the internet and do basic things like type documents, then you simply don’t need a high specification computer. Yes, a high specification computer is nice to have and if you choose to, you can go for what you can afford – just don’t get distracted into unnecessarily paying for more than you actually need.

Here are a few things that explain the jargon used in computing: –

‘Random Access Memory’ (RAM)

‘RAM’ is made of computer chips that temporarily store information when you switch your computer on and is vital for its usability and reliability – think of it as your desk, the bigger the desk the more work you can do. The current standard is 4GB of RAM, which is fine to run Windows and do everyday tasks. 8GB is now becoming the standard for business machines and above that is needed for people doing specialist work, such as those using ‘Virtual Machines’, or video and image editing programs, etc.

Above that 4GB or 8GB, if you are just doing everyday things with your computer then a lot of that ‘RAM’ is just sitting there doing nothing.

Hard Drive sizes

Similarly the Hard Drive standard at the moment is 500GB of storage and unless you do the things mentioned above, this size hard drive is all you need (especially if you are backing up externally – you are, aren’t you?!). Having a computer hard drive that’s double that sounds good, but if it is not filled up very much then why have it. In some cases a larger hard drive can make certain things take longer, for example when performing computer maintenance or disk scanning by a security program.

Computer Processors

The computer processor is the hard working component that dictates a lot of the speed and potential of the machine. The most common processors today are made by a company called Intel and the least powerful of their processor line up is a ‘Celeron’, then ‘Pentium’, then the ‘Core i3’, ’i5’ and ‘i7’.

The Core i3 is the standard processor for business computers, although more homes are using it too especially where more intensive programs are used, such as Photoshop.

The less powerful processors will also work and many people do use them, but there is a reduction in performance to be aware of.

‘i5’ processors tend to be used by ‘gamers’ and those tasks needing serious resources, such as speech recognition, Virtual Machines, etc.

‘i7’ processors are also used by gamers but are mainly specialist processors, are extremely expensive and also way more powerful than most home and business users need – it would be like having a sports car that never went above 30mph!

These are the three most important things to look for when looking to buy another computer. After these factors, the next important points are the reputation of the manufacturer as well as the price – genuine bargain or not?

So the next time you are in the market for a computer, don’t be blinded by science or the sales jargon – research what you need and stick to it, unless it’s a real bargain!

Call us on 01455 209505 for more advice and no obligation quotes.

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Should businesses buy a Business or Consumer grade computer?

consumer or business grade computers

Businesses – should you buy a Consumer or Business PC? Before buying a computer for work, it’s important to consider whether your best bet is to get a consumer model or one built specifically for business use.

You’ve probably seen business computers with the same brand name that you have at home, but that’s where the similarities end. Investing in the right system now will pay off long term, saving you time, money and a lot of frustration. Here’s what you need to know to make the best choice for your business and budget.

Business-class Features

The operating system that comes pre-installed on a business-class computer will have features the consumer options don’t, including the ability to join corporate networks. Computers designed for home use come with Windows Home or Starter editions, which may require hours of expert assistance to link into a secure business network.

When you invest in a business computer, you may want certain inclusions built-in and ready to go – those include features that will make your network more secure and staff more productive. For example, fingerprint readers, remote desktop software and data encryption tools are available.

Usage Requirements

Work out how often you’ll be using the computer for business. If the computer is mostly for home use and only occasionally for work, then a consumer PC with the appropriate work software and settings may be fine. On the other hand, a computer that is mostly for business use should be a business-class computer, not just for security but also build quality reasons.

Build quality and Reliability

It’s probably no surprise that consumer PCs don’t have the same build quality as business ones. In fact, consumer models have a lower expected lifespan – they just aren’t built to last. Business-class computers are built to last longer, with higher quality components and rigorous testing at every level. Most parts (if not all) are name-brand with an emphasis on reliability and long term durability.

Warranty and Service

Unfortunately when a consumer PC fails, the burden is on the owner to send it away for repairs, unless you have a special deal or have bought an extension to the normal warranty. The terms of the warranty will usually state that any other attempt to repair it will void that warranty.  Repairs can then take weeks and often involve a frustrating process of paperwork and following up.

Contrast that with what happens when a business computer needs service – on a business warranty it is common for the manufacturer’s technicians to come to you and fix it – if not same day then next business day. If it has to go back to the manufacturer, the time away from you is much shorter than for a consumer warranty repair. Business users enjoy a professional experience with priority status and a dedicated support line, all designed to reduce down-time and get you operational, faster.

Talk to us today on 01455 209505 about choosing the right computer for your needs.

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Free Antivirus – is it letting you down?

Free antivirus - is it good enough?

One of the best ways to avoid a computer virus is by using common sense, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be safe from attack. Even the most careful user can find themselves infected in an instant and spreading the virus faster than a sneeze in flu season. It’s why antivirus software is still the first package we install on all systems – because you never know when you’ll be attacked. But should you choose free or paid antivirus?

Advertising in the program

Much like a free mobile app making its fortune with in-app purchases, the free antivirus software will push for payment. Expect popup boxes pestering you to sign up to the paid version with some free options also trying to change your browser home page and default search engine, an inconvenience you may be stuck with. Paid options are more respectful and largely invisible unless they’ve detected a problem.

Effectiveness of free antivirus

It’s fair to expect your antivirus to detect malware, and testing showed that in a head-to-head battle free and paid are about equal at catching known infections – although some are better than others as you would expect. Unfortunately,  free antivirus generally needs to have recorded a virus into its virus lists before it can detect it. Paid antivirus is more likely to identify and stop a new virus because it also bases the detection on suspicious behaviour, the source and its attributes, a far more effective method of detection.

Features in free versions

Free antivirus programs are usually created from the paid version, taking out everything except the bare minimum. In your free version, it is unlikely that you will have all the advanced features like spam filters, firewalls, parental controls and secure web browsing. Some paid antivirus will also update your other software packages, forming a more secure protection against attacks. For example, you might view a malicious image file that takes advantage of an exploit in your PDF software so anything that reminds you to update your PDF program is a good thing. Unfortunately, hackers have advanced beyond simple tactics and it’s not just about avoiding email attachments anymore.

Support

Free antivirus options are the most popular choice because they’re… free. Obviously.  This also means there’s generally little or no support available. If there’s a problem or conflict, you may find yourself without protection until it can be resolved. Paid antivirus options usually include telephone support, ready to help with problems ranging from installation to system diagnostics.

Ease of use and flexibility

Depending on what you use your computer for, this may be an important concern. Free antivirus options are easy to install and use, but are very limited in their flexibility. They come as-is, meaning you can’t pick and choose what it monitors or how it reacts. For example, users occasionally find it necessary to disable ALL protections in order to install or play a network game. Paid versions are more likely to allow you to adapt the way the antivirus runs, switching features on and off as required e.g. many paid antivirus programs have a ‘gaming mode’ available, which restricts interference by the antivirus product.

Free antivirus is fine for very basic protection or those with an older PC. In these cases, something is always better than nothing. But we generally recommend that you go with a paid antivirus to defend you from the new attacks that are released daily, and to ensure you’ve got solid protection that will make a real difference to your digital safety.

If you want to upgrade to a paid antivirus, give us a call on 01455 209505.

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Live Mail – time for an alternative?

Windows Live Mail

We see that many customers have Windows Live Mail, which is a very popular free email program that took over from the venerable old Outlook Express many years ago. However if you are still using Live Mail, its usefulness is becoming more limited so it may be a good time to look for an alternative email program.

Firstly, last year Microsoft made changes to their email systems which made Live Mail incompatible with their email infrastructure. This meant that the Microsoft email systems such as Hotmail, live.com, msn.com and outlook.com no longer worked with Live Mail.

Unfortunately, in January of 2017 Microsoft also stopped supporting the Live Mail program altogether, which meant that Live Mail no longer has the benefit of security or any other updates.

Those of you who are using different email accounts to the above may find that Live Mail is still happily collecting your emails, so you may feel that there isn’t an issue yet. The problem is that without security updates, the program itself is going to be more vulnerable and as email is one of the main conduits for viruses, malware and identity theft, it may not be a good idea to ignore the lack of updates for long.

Also, with no further updates Live Mail will effectively begin to become less reliable as more email providers update their email systems that Live Mail cannot support. Likewise, we are certainly seeing an increase in Live Mail issues and the question needs to be asked – is it worth fixing?

Alternative email programs

Windows 10 has a built-in app called ‘Mail’ (although some people consider it to still be a maturing product)  however if you are not using Windows 10, then you will need to look elsewhere. Clearly Microsoft would love customers to use Outlook, which would also mean a subscription to their Office software suite.

Alternatively you can access emails online such as from Outlook.com and certainly many people do use the very popular online ‘Gmail’ service – but not everyone wants to use an internet browser for email, especially those that are comfortable using an email program.

Alternatives programs are available, such as the email program ‘Thunderbird’ which is one of the most popular free email programs around (from the makers of the ‘Firefox’ internet browser). There are other free programs such as ‘Operamail’ (from the makers of the ‘Opera’ internet browser), ‘Mailbird’ and others, but when choosing your next free email program do bear in mind that some programs are free because they add advertising or market research tracking, so some are better than others when it comes to privacy.

Luckily whichever email program you decide to choose,  Live Mail stores emails in the industry standard .eml format, which means that it is fairly easy to transfer the emails from Live Mail into another program.

If you would like help in moving to another email program, please call 01455 209505.

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How to spot a Tech Scam

avoiding computer scammers

If your computer had a virus, you’d want to know about it ASAP, right?

Before your important files become corrupted, you lose your photos and your digital life is essentially destroyed. Even thinking about it is terrifying.

Tech scammers know we’d be lost without our computers, and that we don’t always know what’s going on behind the screen – which is why they’ve been able to swindle millions from every day people across the world.

The scam goes like this:-

You receive a random phone call from someone with a heavy accent  saying they’re from Microsoft, Talk Talk, BT or some other well-known company, or an alarming pop-up appears on the screen, saying it looks like your system has been infected with a virus.

The real Microsoft will never randomly call people like this. Ever.

To fix the problem, they need to you to download some support software, which they’ll give you a special link for.

A technician then uses that software to gain access to your system and make it appear your system is riddled with viruses. Flashing screens, mysterious diagnostics whizzing by, fabricated errors…they’ll do or say anything to make you panic. They’ll even go as far as claiming your system has been infected with illegal content and if not corrected, you’ll face criminal charges.

Demands for credit card information follow immediately after. Once paid, they simply stop fiddling with your system to make it seem the problem is fixed. To continue the scam, they’ll soon access your system to recreate the problem, this time offering a subscription for ongoing protection.

What To Do If You’re Targeted By A Tech Scam

  1. Don’t taunt them. Just hang up. Right now you’re only a phone number in their system and they’ll move onto the next – if you give them cause to target you personally, you may find yourself in a worse situation.
  1. If a pop-up appears, immediately run an anti-virus scan. Don’t click the pop-up or call the number.

What To Do If You’ve Already Been Scammed

It’s okay. It feels horrible, but you’re not alone and the situation can be corrected.

Call your financial institution and have the charges reversed and your card reissued. It’s easier than you might think and helps the authorities locate the scammers.

Then give us a call on 01455 209505 and we’ll make sure they no longer have access to your computer.

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Potentially Unwanted Programs

Too many toolbars are PUPs

Everyone has heard of the term ‘computer virus’ and many people have also heard of the term ‘malware’. Unfortunately there is a less well-known term – a Potentially Unwanted Program (PUP).

This is software that may be clogging up your computer, yet is not classed as a virus or malware. They can cause problems when they are downloaded and installed, but what makes a PUP different is that when you install one, you are giving consent for the installation.

PUPs typically use up large amounts of system resources because they are running in the background and generally slow down your computer – sometimes drastically. From changing your search provider for no reason, adding toolbars to your internet browser or giving you pop-up adverts, PUPs can be annoying and troublesome. They are also easy to get.

Newer strains are information gatherers, providing data about your browsing habits and other information which is valuable to someone and the information is sent out for data collection purposes. Some are used to spread actual malware. Not all are as bad as this, but they all share an unwelcome trait – you are probably better off without them.

How do you get them?

Sometimes they piggy back onto other downloads, such as from software websites where there are bright green ‘Start Download’ buttons everywhere. You click on the button expecting one piece of free software and end up getting something else entirely or something in addition to what you expected.

It’s not just dodgy toolbars or free software designers either. Some big names bundle well-meaning PUPs in their downloads, for example Adobe Reader can give you the option to download an on-demand virus scanning program unless you spot it on the webpage, or a Java download asking if you want to install a toolbar, change your search engine or other setting when installing the program.

The more dodgy variety of PUP relies on you not wanting to read through the long licensing blurb displayed on the screen (the EULA). By clicking on the ‘Accept’ button, you are effectively giving them permission to install and in the case of the dodgy variety, protection from any legal action.

The question is that it’s easy to click away and miss something – you do need to watch what you click on.

Why do you get them?

“Free” software makers make money from them – for example, every toolbar installed earns them money.

Companies that give you the option to download them in addition to their own product, may also make money promoting the additional software.

PUPs are also friendly with each other, so when you get one it may bring along some of its PUP friends as well, to make some more money on the side.

Won’t my anti-virus program catch them?

Not necessarily. The issue is that technically, a PUP can be legal software in spite of the way it is used and some antivirus vendors choose to be strict about detecting them, whilst others are not so strict. Even if it is not switched on by default, many antivirus programs have a setting to configure the antivirus to look for PUPs, so it’s worth checking yours.

The important thing is to be watchful, especially when downloading and installing programs.

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Computer Recovery – for when disaster strikes

Recovering your computer

Windows 10 and Windows 8 have a built-in facility to refresh/reset your computer if you have a major problem, so you can reinstall Windows and use your computer if the worst happens. The problem is that Windows 10 has only 25% market share (as at February 2017) and Windows 8 has even less, 8% – compared to Windows 7 that still has 48% of the market. So if you still have Windows 7, how would you reinstall it?

In the past when you bought a new computer, it came with DVD discs called ‘Recovery discs’ which contained a copy of  Windows software that the manufacturer put on the computer at the factory. These discs were used as a last resort to reinstall Windows and basically put the computer back to the state that it was in fresh out of the factory (that is without your own files such as photographs, etc.) should it be necessary.

In recent years, most computer manufacturers stopped supplying these Recovery discs and instead placed a copy (called an ‘image’) on a part of the computer hard drive. So long as the hard drive and/or the information on it are intact, then you can reinstall Windows using that image instead of a Recovery disc.

If there is something wrong with the hard drive itself, you are stuck with no way of repairing your computer without paying for the manufacturer to send you out a Recovery disc and waiting for it to arrive, sometimes taking weeks. Or worse still, buying a copy of the operating system again.

Luckily, manufacturers put a program on computers that allow you to create a Recovery image automatically. By creating this Recovery image, you are giving yourself that extra chance of reinstalling Windows on your computer, without more cost and delays.

Unfortunately we find that most people do not make this Recovery backup, so we strongly recommend that you find the program on your computer now and create a Recovery image as soon as you can. It’s never too late to get that extra peace of mind and you may be glad that you did.

If you would like help to create recovery images, give us a call on 01455 209505. We’d be happy to help.

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What does Cloud computing mean?

Cloud computing and storage

The I.T. world is full of jargon but it’s surprising the number of people we deal with who have heard of the term “Cloud” computing, but still do not know what it means….and how it could benefit them.

Essentially, when people talk about “Cloud” computing they are talking about a method to store your files on special servers on the internet, instead of just on your computer. Saving them “on the Cloud”.

That way, if something bad happened to your computer, copies of your files would be safely tucked away somewhere else where you could still access them even if you could not use your computer.

Is it just online storage?

It is more than that, as your files could be accessible to you whenever and wherever you may be, so you are not tied down to have to be sitting at your computer to access them. One of the most well-known (and copied) ‘Cloud’ services is from a company called Dropbox.

Here is the way it works – you open an account (which is free up to a certain level of storage) and you install their program. This creates a folder on your computer and if you save something (a photo, document or whatever) in that folder, not only will it be saved on your computer, but also a copy is automatically sent to a secure server for safekeeping.

You don’t have to do anything special or anything that you do not already do – all you need to remember is to save your work in the cloud folder. You can make changes, share the file with other people – you can even do something at work and carry on with it when you get home. And vice versa.

For home users, it’s a great way to back up your important files without having to go through the hassle of setting up backup plans to an external hard drive – it’s automatic.

I’m not sure about saving my files there – is it secure?

Well, governments use it and it’s fair to say that the security at data centres where this is stored, is some of the hardest security around. Although nothing online can be guaranteed to be 100% secure, great lengths are taken to protect the information, including copies in more than one place so if one data centre has a problem, another can take over.

So the term ‘Cloud’ can do more for you than you realise and can be an inexpensive lifesaver – especially for businesses.

If you want help setting up a ‘Cloud’ storage system, please give us a call on 01455 209505.

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Windows 10 Privacy

Windows 10 privacy

Since Windows 10 was released, much has been said about the privacy concerns that come with it. Admittedly, some of the concerns have been exaggerated but there is no doubt that Windows 10 collects much more data about you than any other Windows version before it.

One of the concerns relates to ‘Cortana’ the “personal assistant”. Like Apple’s ‘Siri’, ‘Cortana’ collects personal information such as calendar, contacts, location, alarm settings, what websites you view, emails, and more. When you add it all up, there is quite a lot of information about you.

Why are they collecting this much information?

They say that it is to “better serve you”, such as being able to suggest a restaurant nearby, but ultimately it is also advertising data collection. Each account with an email is given an Advertising ID and a profile is created that is shared with Microsoft partner advert networks.

Similarly, OneDrive the online storage service, synchs every time you switch on and gets updates of your internet browsing and wifi details. Even your location is noted by the operating system and the information is passed to “trusted” third parties.

Everyone thinks differently about their privacy – one person may feel that ‘Cortana’ being able to suggest a local restaurant is good enough reason for so much data collection, but another person may feel it’s a little too much.

To be fair, it’s not just Windows 10 though – ‘Siri’ keeps voice recordings for much longer than you would think as back in 2013 Apple announced that they were keeping your ‘Siri’ voice recordings for two years. The digital age has its drawbacks.

What can you do about more control over your privacy?

Go to Start Menu > Settings and open the Privacy section, to look carefully at all the settings that can be switched on or off – there are quite a few of them and some settings may be useful to you, others not so much.

Also, you can still have a local account on your Windows 10 computer rather than one controlled by your email address, which controls the automatic synching of your information.

Microsoft have now taken the privacy concerns seriously and in the so-called ‘Creators Update’ for Windows 10 that is due in the first half of 2017, the privacy settings will be much clearer, simpler and transparent, including a new privacy dashboard which will be where you can have much more control over your information, all in one place.

In the meantime, there’s no need to be looking over your shoulder for big brother, but you do need to at least be aware that a lot of information is collected about you and what you do every day with your computer.

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