Archive for General advice

How to tell if your Computer has a Virus

How to tell if your computer has a virus

Sometimes computers do strange things that ring alarm bells and the next thing is that you’re running virus scans and demanding everyone come clean about their browsing habits. Fortunately, not all weird occurrences are caused by viruses – sometimes your computer is simply overloaded, overheating or in desperate need of a reboot.

Here are some tell-tale signs of a malware attack:-

1. Bizarre error messages

Look for messages popping up from nowhere that make no sense, are poorly worded or plain gibberish – especially if they’re about a program you don’t even have. Take note of anti-virus warnings too, check the warning is from YOUR anti-virus software and also that it looks like it should.

If a message pops up that isn’t quite right, don’t click. Not even to clear or cancel the message. Close the browser or shut down the computer instead, then run a full scan.

2. Suddenly deactivated anti-virus/malware protection

Certain viruses are programmed to take out the antivirus/antimalware security systems first, leaving you open to infection (this is why we advise our customers to always have all the system tray icons visible on the taskbar, on the bottom right-hand side). If you reboot and your protections aren’t back doing their job, you may be under attack. Attempt to start the anti-virus manually.

3. Social media messages you didn’t send

Are your friends replying to messages you never wrote? Your login details might have been hacked and your friends are now being tricked into giving up personal information or worse. Change your password immediately, and advise your friends of the hack.

4. Web browser acting up

Perhaps you’ve noticed your homepage has changed, it’s using an odd search engine or opening/redirecting to unwanted sites. If your browser has gone rogue, it could be a virus or malware, usually one intended to steal your personal or financial details.

Skip the online banking and email until your scans come up clear and everything is working normally again.

5. Sluggish performance

If your computer speed has dropped, boot up takes longer and even moving the mouse has become a chore, it’s a sign that something is wrong – but not necessarily a virus. Run your anti-virus scan and if that resolves it, great. If not, your computer possibly needs a tune-up or quickie repair.

6. Constant computer activity

You’re off the computer but the hard drive is going, the fans are whirring, and the network lights are constantly flashing? Viruses and malware use your computer resources, sometimes even more than you do. Take note now of what’s normal, and what’s not.

Got a virus? Give us a call at 01455 209505.

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Equifax Data Breach and UK Customers

Equifax Data Breach and what it means for UK customers

Recently, Credit reporting company Equifax has revealed that its databases were hacked in a large-scale breach affecting millions of customers across the US, UK & Canada and personal information was leaked. While no hacking event is ever good news, some are easier to ignore than others – but unfortunately, this isn’t one of them. Major UK companies such as BT and British Gas use Equifax services as well, so there may be UK customers affected too.

Equifax is one of the three main organizations in the US that manages & calculates credit scores. To do that effectively, they have access to almost every piece of financial data for adults – social security, tax file numbers, drivers’ licence, credit card numbers…the big stuff. On July 29, Equifax disclosed the breach, stating that hackers had repeatedly gotten in through a vulnerability in their systems from mid-May to July of this year.

Equifax, cyber-security experts & law enforcement officials are on the case, working to minimize the long-term damage and it may be that the number of customers actually affected in the end may well be small. Also, the UK Regulator – the Information Commissioner – has asked Equifax to inform all UK customers that may be affected.

Whilst you do not need to panic, there is a risk of personal information being in the wrong hands. You should consider that risk, particularly as this type of personal information can circulate for a long time due to the fact that these hackers also sell the information on to others.

Here are a few ideas to protect yourself against possible future compromise: –

Keep a close eye on your finances and accounts.

Check for notifications of new credit applications, monitor your statements and bills, and immediately report any suspicious activity or sudden change in billing.

Change all your passwords to be strong, unique and long.

The stolen data may give hackers a free pass into bank accounts, email and personal information. Add two-factor authentication where possible – this is when an account demands a second layer of authentication before allowing access or changes – so just getting the password correct isn’t enough, the hacker would also need to get the special code sent by SMS text.

If you believe that you have been compromised, consider freezing your credit report.

This makes it harder for identity thieves to open accounts under your name, as access is completely restricted until you choose to un-freeze.

BT have provided the Equifax UK telephone number 0800 014 2955 for customers that have a query over their credit file and they can also be contacted via their website www.equifax.co.uk.

If you need help with your passwords, give us a call on 01455 209505.

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Age UK Business Directory Member

Age UK Business Directory

We are pleased to announce that CSH Computer Services is now a Member of the Age UK Leicestershire & Rutland Business Directory.

The Age UK Business directory is a free service to help older people find a trustworthy business in their local area.

Age UK Business Directory are very careful about the services they promote on the directory and every company listed has been checked by Age UK staff and has agreed to abide by the Business Directory customer charter.

This is alongside the Which? Trusted Trader membership that we hold and gives customers that extra assurance that we have their interests in mind when working on their behalf.

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How to Make Your Photos Last A Lifetime

Make Photos Last a Lifetime

Digital cameras are great, and thanks to smartphones, we have one with us almost all the time. We’re taking more photos than ever before, and building a lifetime of digital data. But despite the enormous value of these photos and videos, most people don’t have a backup. It’s time to shine a light on this essential task and make it a regular habit before those precious memories are gone forever.

If you asked someone what possession they’d save from a house fire, many would say photos, and they’d make a point of grabbing a frame or album on the way out. But with digital photos, you don’t need a fire to lose everything, they could simply disappear in the blink of an eye with hardware failure or theft. There’s no warning, no smoke alarm, and without a plan already in place, little no chance to recover the data depending on how is was damaged. It’s time to get set up with a true backup system.

Is one copy enough?

You might think saving your information to an external hard drive or flash drive is enough. You’re right, it’s better than nothing, but since the data is stored in only one place, this isn’t a backup – it’s just storage. That drive could fail at any moment, perhaps from age, malfunction or plain old theft.

Often enough, that drive can become lost over the years or even put somewhere ‘safe’ and promptly forgotten! And with the way technology is moving, accessing that data in 5 years might even bring up compatibility issues – some newer computers don’t even have CD/DVD drives, yet hundreds of thousands of homes would still have photos stored on a plastic disc.

Two copies?

You might have your extra storage drive as backup and keep a copy on your computer. This is a better solution, and how many people store their data, but it still isn’t enough. While you’re protected against device failure, that house fire is going to take both copies up in flames.

Thieves would probably grab the external drive while they’re bundling up your computer too, so again, you’d be left with zero copies. It’s close, but it’s not a true backup system.

Using The Cloud

The term ‘Cloud’ may just seem a fancy name for storage on secure servers, but we have seen it save many people’s important data and for ease of backup, protection and security it’s hard to beat.

We recommend keeping one copy on the computer/device and another on Cloud storage. Of course, you can also still an external drive as a third copy if you wish (and many in the IT world consider ‘The Rule of Three’ as the way to go) but the best Cloud storage solutions have multiple backups, which is not the case when using an external drive.

The Cloud backup can be fully automated so you don’t even need to worry about remembering to do it. If the day comes that you need your data back, it’s ready and waiting in perfect condition – even if you have been infected with Viruses and Ransomware (depending on your Cloud storage provider). Cloud technology also means your data is far away from any potential fire or flood, it’s secure and with the right company, guaranteed against loss.

There’s a saying in the IT industry: “There are two kinds of people: those who backup, and those who have never lost all their data”.

No matter what the cause of your data loss, it always has a deep impact, particularly when it comes to precious data like photos. While re-creating some homework or the family budget might just be inconvenient, there’s no way to recreate photos once they’re gone.

Most importantly, it’s a loss that is very avoidable.

If you want help in protecting your data, give us a call at 01455 209505 to implement a well-rounded backup system.

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4 Simple Tips to Help Keep Your Internet Banking Safe

Online Banking precautions

Online banking has boomed in the past few years – branches are fewer and apps are in. Half the time when you visit a branch, you’re steered towards a computer for a DIY transaction – with optional assistance. But is internet banking really safe?

You’re always told to keep your financial details private, but the good news is you CAN bank more safely online with a few simple precautions.

Always type in the website address

Many attackers will attempt to trick you into clicking a fake link to your bank website. Usually sent as a ‘phishing email’, they’ll claim that there’s a problem and ask you to click through to your bank and correct it asap. The link points to a fake website that looks almost exactly like your real bank site and is recording your private account info.

You can avoid scams like this simply by accessing your bank by manually typing in the website or using a bookmark – never a link.

Avoid public computers and networks

Jumping onto a PC at the library or other public place might seem like a quick and easy way to check your account, but public computers are often targeted by scammers. In just a few moments, they can install keyloggers (programs that record usernames, passwords and other private data), then sit back as all future user details are emailed to them.

The same problem applies with free, unsecured Wi-Fi.

You’re better off using an ATM or a data-enabled smartphone, preferably one with a security app.

Use a strong password with 2-factor authentication

Create a unique password for your online banking, something you’ve never used anywhere else. Mix up words, numbers and symbols to create a complex password that can’t be guessed easily. Avoid giving attackers a head start with data they can find on Facebook, like childrens names, pet names, birthdates, etc and really think outside the box.

And of course, never write it down anywhere near your wallet, phone or computer.

If remembering is likely to be an issue, you might like to consider a secure password manager app. Many banks will also help boost your security with two-factor authentication, sending random codes to your phone (or a special LCD device that they provide) to verify any activity.

Check page security before entering data

Finally, take a second to spot the small padlock icon at the top before you enter any data. You’re looking for a padlock appearing as part of the browser itself, not just an image on the webpage. It will be either in the bottom corner or next to the URL. The address will also start with https:// instead of http://. If you don’t see these things, the page is NOT secure and you shouldn’t log in.

We have many customers that never use online banking, but for the majority of people who do, these simple steps will help keep your transactions a little bit safer.

Need some help securing your system against scammers? We can help. Call us on 01455 209505.

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Facebook privacy and how it could affect you

Check your Facebook privacy

Finding the balance between Facebook privacy and Facebook fun can be challenging – but it’s a double-edged sword. Facebook allows us to connect with friends no matter where they live, but it also publicly shares information that just a few years ago, we’d never dream of putting online.

You can search for people based on where they went to school, the town they live in, clubs they belong to, who they’re related to…but when is it too much information for our own good?

Your birthday is the first piece of information collected when you sign up, and it’s great getting birthday wishes from friends and family when it appears in their newsfeed. But while Facebook is sending you balloons and funny memes, your birthday is now public knowledge. It seems harmless, but when you call your bank or other institution, what’s the first question they ask to verify your identity? Your birthday!

Some password recovery/reset systems even ask questions like ‘which school did you go to?’, “name of your pet”,  name of your mother (or father)”, etc. assuming that this is knowledge that only you would know. Except…you may have publicly shared it on Facebook.

The fact is that unless you are careful, there is a large amount of information that can be gained from Facebook, by people that may misuse it.

Also, we’ve all heard stories of people who’ve lost their jobs after less-than-wholesome pictures or statements have gone public. If you have a reputation to keep, you definitely don’t want pictures from last weekend’s private party showing up, especially if you really let your hair down. While you can’t control what others do with photos they take of you, you can control whether or not you’re tagged in them.

Fortunately, there are settings in Facebook that allow you to control who sees what information and what happens when you’re tagged. Despite what you may have heard or seen floating around in a Facebook share hoax, you do have complete control over your Facebook privacy, and it’s easy to adjust.

How to Check and Adjust Your Facebook Privacy Settings

1. See what your account looks like to an outsider

From your Facebook homepage, click your name on the blue bar at the top of the page. Click the three dots next to ‘View Activity Log’ and then select ‘View as…’

2. Run a quick privacy checkup

Click the question mark in the top right corner and choose ‘privacy checkup’. Think about what you really need to share – do people need to know the YEAR of your birth or just your birthday? Your friends will still get the notification, and you’ll still get the balloons.

3. Edit advanced privacy

While the checkup covers the most obvious info, you can go much deeper. Click the V-shaped dropdown to the right of the question mark. Go to settings and choose privacy.

4. Adjust timeline and tagging

In the privacy settings, you can explicitly control who can tag you, who can see or share the tagged content, and what shows up on your newsfeed.

Just as you shouldn’t tell the world when you are going away on holiday (and your home is unattended), your personal information should be treated with the same care, but tightening your Facebook privacy only takes a few minutes and it can save you a whole lot of trouble in the future.

If you need help with this, just give us a call at 01455 209505.

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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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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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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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