Archive for Internet

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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Voice Activated Products and Privacy

Microphones in Voice Activated Devices in the Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Security of the Device

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

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

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

Voice Data Storage

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

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

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

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

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NHS Cyber Attack – how to build up your protection

Malware terms

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

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

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

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

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

1. Ensure that Windows Updates is kept up to date

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

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

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

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

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

3.    Install extra protection.

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

4.    Consider your backup situation

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

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

5.    Consider downtime – system backups

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

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

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

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

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Beware – the fake TalkTalk Scam is Still Going Strong

Keep your computer secure from scammers

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

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

Scammers are back

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

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

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

What to do if they call

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

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

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

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The Internet of Things

Internet of Things

Not too long ago, when you watched a TV programme or film that showed someone talking to a computer (and the computer answered back) it was just science fiction. Now it’s fact, just take Amazon Echo for example – one of a number of little gadgets just waiting for you to talk to it. Now, you can ‘talk’ to and control aspects of your home, wherever you are.

What is Internet of Things?

The I.T. world loves its jargon and you may have heard of the phrase ‘Internet of Things’ – this means an interconnected system of everyday devices controllable over the internet.

You arrive at home and the door unlocks because it knows who you are, sensing the key in your pocket. The lights switch themselves on and your favourite music begins to stream through the living area. The home is already the perfect temperature because you switched on the heating using your smartphone, and as you head for the fridge you notice an alert on the screen congratulating you on meeting your exercise goal today and suggesting a tasty snack.

This is actually reality today thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), for example the ‘Hive’ service from the well-known energy company British Gas uses IoT technology. Almost anything that can be turned on or off is now able to be connected to the internet and an entire industry has popped up to help users create a custom experience designed around their unique needs.  Electronic locks, lights, healthcare wearables and household appliances are just the beginning.

Adapters can transform even the most random appliance into a connected gadget, as well as add new layers of functionality. Millions of people are wearing a Fitbit, Jawbone or other wearable fitness trackers to track steps and calories, while others are letting their fridge order groceries!

The practical applications are almost endless, including: GPS trackers on pets, home security via webcam, patient monitoring of blood pressure/heart rate, weather monitoring, and remote power points. No more worrying all day if you left the iron on, just push a button on your phone and know for sure it’s turned off.

Not everyone wants this interconnectivity, (such as their fridge telling them when to order milk – they may want it to be just a fridge) but the technology is there and is going to be built into more and more devices that you buy from the shops from now on.

With all this connectivity comes risks.

If your home devices are connected over the internet, they are open to internet risks just like everything else. While the idea of having your toaster hacked is a bit mind-boggling, technology connected to the internet is open to exploitation. The webcam that allows you to monitor your pets may also allow other people to glimpse inside your home, but only if it’s not secured properly. Unfortunately, it only takes one small gap for a cyber-attack to get through, and once in, all connected devices are at risk.

Having your lights taken over by a far-away prankster may seem like a small risk, but gaps allow them into your computers, phones and tablets too. That’s the part the movies skip over – the networking protections that exist in the background, shielding against attacks.

Taking the time to properly secure your IoT device is essential to making sure you get the whole, happy future-tech experience.

Got an IoT device? Give us a call at 01455 209505 to help you set it up securely.

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Browser HTTP – HTTPS warnings and what they mean

HTTPS secure connection in browser

There are two common ways that you can access the internet using an internet browser like Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc. and they are called HTTP and HTTPS. Some of the main browsers may now start displaying warnings that they didn’t before and this will explain why and what they mean.

HTTP is the standard method of accessing websites and you can see it in the address bar of your browser, when you see a website address such as http://www.example.com.

HTTPS is more secure because it creates an encrypted connection between you and your online bank, or a website that you are ordering something from – a website that you may be giving your credit card details to. This is achieved by websites using special security certificates that the browser can verify as secure and you can tell this by seeing the green padlock where the website address is. In some cases, there is a padlock (as the picture above) or the whole website address may be shown in green in your browser.

HTTPS is becoming the preferred choice

Until recently, the main use of HTTPS was to protect financial transactions or personal information from being intercepted. This is now changing because there are many benefits in making all websites use it, even when not doing those transactions. For example, if you are logging into something like Facebook, a membership website or forum, it is better to have your login details protected if possible rather than going over the internet unencrypted.

Also, it makes it more difficult for those people who create malicious websites that imitate a genuine website, in order to get you to hand over personal information.

Browsers are highlighting HTTP/HTTPS

Google Chrome announced a while ago that starting this year, they are changing the way the browser shows websites, in that Chrome will start to identify any website that isn’t using HTTPS – whether the website is a financial one or not.

So if you login to something or enter important information, you may now see: –

Chrome security warnings

Similarly, Firefox is now flagging non-HTTPS websites and when there is a website with a login, this warning is displayed advising you that the connection is not secure, that is not using HTTPS.

Address bar not secure

If you are entering login details, you may also see this: –

Insecure login warning

Eventually, all websites will go the HTTPS route, but at the moment there is generally a cost implication for website owners for the security certificates and setup, so the speed of the take-up of HTTPS will be gradual.

In the meantime, if you see any of the above warnings and you have to enter login details, credit card or other personal information, you now know what they mean and can make an informed choice about what you do next.

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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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Too many toolbars

Popular internet browsers

A ‘Toolbar’ is an extra piece of software which inserts itself into the top of an internet browser and looks a part of it.

These toolbars can add search functions, links to various programs, online services and much more. They are easily available, usually free and are made to sound as though they are things that you cannot do without.

The thing is, you can do without them and we recommend that you avoid them if possible – even if they are from well-known companies.

There are a number of reasons for this. One is that every time you start up your browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome etc.)  the toolbar will also load and install itself into the browser. This can not only slow the loading of the browser in the first place but can also slow down the loading of websites, as some toolbars monitor the content of each web page and that information needs to be processed in the background- which slows things down.

This monitoring is another reason to avoid them – usually deep down in the terms and conditions (that no-one reads) is a clause that says that you give the toolbar permission to track what you are doing on the internet and send this information to a third party, either for adverts or something else.

Another practical reason to avoid them is that some are just badly designed and written. They can interfere with legitimate uses of your internet browsers and can even stop them functioning at all in some cases.

In extreme cases, we have seen multiple toolbars in customer internet browsers and this can not only slow the browser down, but also the computer itself.

When you can bookmark your favourite sites, you may want to look at your toolbars, to see if you really need them.

 

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