Archive for General advice

Is Your Home WiFi Good Enough?

Is your Home WiFi good enough?

Wi-Fi has forever changed the way we live, work and play. We can surf the internet in the home or on holiday by the pool, look up a recipe in an instant, and even connect our lights to voice control. It’s no wonder it was accepted with open arms, but is your Wi-Fi as good as it needs to be?

10 years after Wi-Fi first made its way into homes, it’s evolved into a juggernaut of speed and accessibility that we can’t do without, but think about how many wireless devices your home has – the average home has at least 10 devices connected wirelessly to the internet, many have more.

While older devices are typically happy with a slice of slow internet, your newer devices like 4kTVs and media streaming simply can’t function without fast internet. Add in a game console, tablet, a few smartphones and a laptop or two, and your Wi-Fi is suddenly stretched beyond full capacity and struggling to keep up.

Yet, most people don’t know how fast their Wi-Fi is, or if it’s working right– they only know how many bars they’ve got. Unfortunately, counting bars can be misleading.

Here’s why relying on your Wi-Fi bar count might be ruining your internet experience:-

Bars measure the wrong thing

While it’s great to know you’ve got a ‘strong’ signal, it would be even better if you could have a ‘fast and available’ internet signal. The fact is that the internet could actually be down and you’d still have full bars because it’s really only measuring how close to the Wi-Fi router you are.

That proximity measure doesn’t take into account how many devices are fighting for the same bandwidth or whether there’s any left for you.

Wi-Fi goes sideways

While next-door’s Wi-Fi can reach the back of their property, it can also go a similar distance sideways into your house. This extra ‘noise’ can disrupt and slow down your own Wi-Fi. In dense areas, your Wi-Fi is basically getting lost in a swirling field of signals, all using the same channel and frequency. It’s a digital crowd which can seriously slow your speeds.

This can be fixed by changing your Wi-Fi channel to one with less cross-talk.

Everyone uses the default settings

Most home Wi-Fi uses a 2.4ghz frequency by default. Whilst it makes a ‘Plug & Play’ router easy to set up, it does mean you’re not getting the speeds you could be. Switching to the 5ghz frequency means your Wi-Fi is separated from the neighborhood cross-talk. 5ghz is also considerably faster, which is a bonus.

Priority isn’t set

While not Wi-Fi specific, there is also a “Quality of Service” setting if your router supports it. This allows things like Netflix and Skype calls to always take priority and remain uninterrupted over less important tasks like downloads.

You’ll be able to watch movies with less of those awful buffering jumps and video chat without freezing.

Is your home network not keeping up? Give us a call at 01455 209505 and we can help to improve your internet experience.

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What to do if your Hard Drive Fails

Hard drives fail eventually

If your hard drive is going bad, chances are strange things are happening and you’re a little panicked.

It’s where you put your digital memories, your household files and maybe work that you’ve been doing for months. As far as you’re concerned, that hard drive IS the computer and failure is not an option.

Perhaps it was overheated, knocked around or came from the factory with a flaw. Unfortunately, all hard drives will fail eventually. So how do you know if it’s definitely the drive and what should you do?

Start by watching for these signs: –

Computer slowing down

Because standard hard drives contain moving parts, the slower it gets, the slower your computer gets. It’s a bit like a record player, with spinning plates and a needle whipping from side to side, except the needle doesn’t actually touch the disc.

Your hard drive may eventually take longer to spin up and longer to retrieve files, which will have an impact on everything from booting up to playing games.

Blue screen of death

A classic Windows error, this is when your computer locks up to only show a blue screen with an error code, which while it does mean something specific has gone wrong, can always be translated loosely to ‘nope, not today’.

The more often your computer does this, the more severe the problem is and although it can be caused by other things as well as the hard drive, if blue screen happens it is a critical issue.

Not booting up

During the initial bootup stage, your computer is loading a program stored on the hard drive – it’s your operating system e.g. Windows or MacOS. If some of the files have a problem (because the hard drive has a problem) or they can’t be found, the computer won’t boot. Errors vary, but the outcome is the same.

Corrupted files

Sometimes a file won’t open because the computer says it is corrupted. Some essential pieces of the file are missing, and unlike a book where a missing page is only inconvenient, it’s a deal breaker for computer files.

Noises

You’re familiar with the normal noises your computer makes, but as the hard drive fails the noises can change. You might hear clicking, grinding or even a sci-fi phaser noise. Noises will get louder or speed up during heavy file access.

Whenever something is clearly wrong, the key is to stop and turn your computer off. Continued use can result in more data loss.

Even if you don’t have a backup yet, turn it off now because the large task of backing up can cause extra strain on an already delicate hard drive. It’s tempting to hurry and try to get a quick copy of your files, but in these cases, it’s not about time – it’s about the extra spinning, scratching, warping and electrical charge, all dissolving your precious data with each access.

If you have problems with your hard drive, give us a call on 01455 209505 – we’re happy to help.

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Search Google More Safely

Search Google more safely

We all use Google, quickly finding everything we need on the Internet. It’s replaced dictionaries, encyclopedias, instruction manuals, newspapers and in many cases, even doctors (not such a good thing!).

However, sometimes your search results aren’t the real thing and can be downright malicious. For example, we regularly find that customers search for, say, a printer driver software update and they type in something like “XP442 printer driver” . A close look at some of the results shows things like ‘ epsondrivers.org ‘ or ‘ printerdriversforyou.com ‘ – not the manufacturers official website – so you may get a driver but you are very likely to get something unwanted too!

Here’s how to search more safely: –

Pay attention to the URL in Google

Below every result title there’s a URL (website address) in green. No matter what the title says, this URL is where your mouse click will take you. Unfortunately, cyber-criminals will often list their site with a familiar and trusted title but link you to their scam/malware pages.

Another example can be the title of your bank name (eg, Example Bank), which seems legitimate, but the URL could be www.baabpjhg.com which is obviously not your bank. Sometimes they’ll attempt to trick you by putting the real site into the link too, eg www.baabpjhg.com/examplebank.com which makes it even more likely to catch you out when skimming through results quickly. When you visit the page, it might look exactly like your bank’s site and ask for your login details, which are then harvested for attack.

Whilst jibberish in the link is pretty easy to spot, sometimes they’ll take advantage of a small typo that you can easily miss. For example, www.exampebank.com (missing the letter L).

Notice Google search results v paid adverts

Google does a pretty good job at making sure the most relevant and legitimate sites are at the top of the list, however paid adverts will usually appear above them. Much of the time, these paid ads are also legitimate (and you can quickly check the URL to verify), but occasionally cybercriminals are able to promote their malicious site to the top and catch thousands of victims before being removed.

Similarly, well known businesses can pay for adverts, even though much of their software is classed as ‘Potentially Unwanted Programs’ and technicians remove them from computers every day.

Believe Google’s malicious site alerts

Sometimes Google knows when something is wrong with a website. It could be a legitimate site that was recently hacked, a security setting that’s malfunctioned, or the site was reported to them as compromised.

When this happens, Google stops you clicking through with a message saying “this website may be harmful” or “this site may harm your computer”. Stop immediately, and trust that Google has detected something you don’t want in your house.

Turn on Safe Search

You can filter out explicit search results by turning on Google Safe Search. Whilst not strictly a cyber-security issue, it can still provide a safer Google experience. Safe Search is normally suggested as a way to protect browsing children, but it also helps adults who aren’t interested in having their search results cluttered with inappropriate links, many of which lead to high-risk sites.

Switch Safe Search on/off by clicking Settings > Search Settings > Safe Search.

These are just a few tips to make your searching safer, but the most important is you – never take your internet security for granted and always be cautious when using any search engine, as they can only display what they find out there on the internet – good and bad.

Need some help securing your system? Give us a call on 01455 209505.

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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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