Archive for March 2018

Why Do Computers Slow Down Over Time?

Why computers slow down over time

Remember how you smiled when you turned on your new computer and it loaded in a flash? Button on, ready to go, those were the days!

After a year or two though, it doesn’t seem to be quite as zippy – the thing is that you’re not imagining it. It really has slowed down, not just in comparison to newer models and your expectations…there’s a measurable drop in speed and power that has nothing to do with worn out parts.

The good news is that a little maintenance can have your computer working faster again. Let’s identify the slowdown culprits:-

Start-up applications

It’s very convenient to have Skype start automatically and your anti-virus too. In fact, many of the applications starting themselves with the computer are a great benefit to you, but some of them are getting a little too ‘helpful’.

For example, ‘iTunes helper’ loads in the background to speed things up when you connect your device – but if you can’t even remember the last time you ran iTunes on your computer, then it can go. Programs like that are holding onto a portion of your processing power and adding to your speed issues but as more and more programs get installed, more and more think that they have the right to start whenever you switch your computer on.

The average home computer automatically loads around 75 programs at start-up!

Temporary junk

Computers are kind of messy. They leave temporary files and snippets of information all over your hard drive, each action leaving a trail rather like a roaming toddler with a sticky sandwich. Every webpage, every image on that webpage, every program you run and every game you play leaves something behind.

It may be information called “cookies”, saved game files, auto-restore files or even a log so that you can hit the undo button 100 times while it remembers your actions for you. A memorable one is the backup files that your computer can store, after it has had a major update – sometimes these files can be huge.

The more junk your computer builds up, the slower it gets.

Viruses and malware

These infections sit in the background consuming resources while doing various malicious things. They may be spying on your actions, stealing your information or reaching out through your network to infect others.

Occasionally, the impact is limited to seeing your computer slow to a crawl, however the flow-on financial costs of an infection can easily be larger than you realise – for home users as well as businesses.

Make sure that you have a good antivirus program running – we recommend using paid versions as they tend to protect you more comprehensively than free versions.

Bloating

With every new version of software comes a new set of features, introductory sequences and design improvements. The problem with this is that the application becomes larger and larger with each new version, requiring more system resources to install and run – and slowing your computer down.

That is why you usually find that each new version has higher computer ‘minimum specifications’ than previous versions – but do you really need that ‘latest and greatest’ version?

Just like a car, computers need regular maintenance – we offer a Tune-Up service to bring your computer closer to its original speed and extend its life. For example, a recent computer tune up in Lutterworth left a very happy customer who thought that they would need a new computer, but we managed to put that off for a while!

Give us a call on 01455 209505 to book a computer Tune Up.

Business Email – Best Practice Tips

Business email Tips

If you Google a search term such as “emails not getting delivered” you will get a huge range of reasons why this can happen, but businesses need to try to minimise the chances of it happening, where they can.

For example, most people know that email companies have lists of addresses to automatically block, to try to prevent spam and other undesirable emails getting to customer Inboxes. What many people do not know is that email servers do not just rely on those lists – they use a whole range of tools to constantly filter out possible spam, including setting their own rules for what email is or is not to be stopped, and it is this range of tools that can cause problems.

It has been estimated that up to 10% of emails blocked by email servers can be genuine emails – yet they are still quarantined, put into the server ‘Junk’ folder or marked as Spam for a number of reasons.

This is one of the most common reasons for non-deliverability of emails.

Businesses need to use best practice to minimise the risk of the other party’s email servers treating their genuine emails as Junk and this includes reducing the reasons why email servers wrongly block legitimate emails.

Here are a few tips that may help: –

Do not attach dangerous file extensions to your emails

There are a number of attachments that when opened, can execute viruses or other malware and as such can be automatically blocked by some email services – even when attached to genuine emails. There are a number of such attachments but the most common are .doc and .docx, .exe, .vbs, .msi, .com and many more. Unfortunately, Office files that run what is called ‘Macros’ can also be potentially dangerous, such as .xlxm and .pptm, although this is getting less common.

So apart from being extremely careful if you receive any of the above attachments yourself, to avoid your email getting quarantined by attachment blocking, do not attach them to your emails wherever possible.

Also do bear in mind that if you have previously sent these attachments, those email servers may automatically continue to ‘distrust’ your email address until they are told otherwise by someone at their end recipients.

PDFs are a good way of emailing documents as they cannot execute malicious code and should not be blocked. Alternatively email a link to a cloud-based storage file which can be downloaded instead, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.

Do not email large files

Programs like Outlook can take fairly large file attachments but some servers may operate different rules and when dealing with large files (particularly when over 150MB) then you should be using a cloud solution such as Dropbox. By emailing a link to a particular file so that the recipient can download it themselves, you can avoid any attachment size rules as well as keeping your own email storage under control.

Bounce back error messages are good!

If you get an error message giving a reason why an email has not been delivered, don’t panic – because it is there to help troubleshooting. For example if a persons email account is full, you having misspelled the address or their server has queued the email, this helps to diagnose why you have got a phone call saying “I haven’t received it”.

Unfortunately many servers do not send bounce back error messages at all these days, to try to evade spammers, so in many cases you will not get any error message even when their email service refuses or blocks your email for whatever reason.

Enable DKIM and SPF to authenticate your email

If anyone sends emails on your behalf, they should be included in what is called your SPF record, which tells the recipient email server that they are authorised on your behalf.

DKIM signs your emails with an encrypted key and the other half of that key is provided by your domain. When the keys match, there is a higher likelihood that the emails will accepted as they have been verified as authentic.

Check your email doesn’t have ‘spammy’ characteristics

Email services use many ways to decide whether or not an email is spam and therefore be blocked or discarded. One of these is to treat any email with a ‘spammy’ subject address as suspect. For example, try to make the subject line relevant and readable. Subject lines with just “Invoice” or letters and numbers will trigger suspicion straight away.

Avoid using terms such as “stuff”, “hello”, “help” and use appropriate capitalization. Also avoid formatting in an email where possible.

Beware of the recipient!

There are times when the recipient of an email has not checked their Junk folder, or have marked an email as spam (which can tell their email service to treat emails as spam from then on) – or they can just be mistaken. Sometimes they may even be avoiding telling the truth!

The bottom line is even though 99.99% of emails get through without incident, there are so many reasons why emails can get held up at the other end that you have to try to avoid these blocks if you can. With the global email system set up as it is, everyone is at the mercy of how good (or bad) your recipients email servers are set up.

The important thing is when you have an undelivered email issue, get your email server logs checked as well as asking the recipient to check their Junk mail folder. They also need to check their own email service – it may be held up there, just not getting to the person that you sent it to. If their email service has deleted it for whatever reason, that fact should be in their logs.

Why Spam is a Small Business Nightmare

Why Spam is a Small Business Nightmare

15 years after the world united to crack down on spam emails, we’re still struggling with overloaded Inboxes and estimates of the extent of global spam, range from 60% to over 80% of email traffic. All that unwanted email continues to flood the internet, much of it targeted towards small businesses, and the impact goes wider than you might think.

Here’s the full breakdown of how modern spam works and how it’s hurting your business.

What is spam?

Generally speaking, spam is any unwanted message that lands in your email, comes via text, social media messaging, or other communication platform. It might be sent to your main business account, eg your ‘contact us’ email, or direct to your employees. Most of the time, spam is annoying but relatively innocent messages from another business inviting you to buy/do/see something. They’re newsletters, reminders, invitations, sales pitches, etc. You may know the sender and have a previous relationship with them, or they might be a complete stranger.

Occasionally, spam may even be part of a cyber attack.

Why you’re getting spammed.

Maybe you or your employee signed up for a newsletter or bought a raffle ticket to win a car. Perhaps you got onto the mailing list accidentally after enquiring about a product, not knowing that simply getting a brochure sent through would trigger a spam-avalanche. Often there’s fine print that says they’ll not only use your details to send you their marketing, but they’ll share your details with 3rd parties so they can send you messages too. That single email address can be passed around the internet like wildfire, and before you know it, you’re buried under spam.

Sometimes, and more than we’d like to think, your details are found illicitly, perhaps through a hacked website for example, like the recent LinkedIn leak. More often though, your email is simply collected by a computer ‘scraping’ the internet – scouring forums and websites for plain text or linked emails and selling them as prime spam targets. It’s easy to see how individual office employees receive an average of 120 emails daily, over half of which are spam!

Spam is not just annoying.

We all know spam is annoying, but did you know it’s also resource hungry? Your employees are spending hours each week sorting their email, assessing each one for relevance and deleting the spam. Too often, legitimate emails from clients and customers get caught up and are accidentally deleted. Add in the temptation to read the more interesting spam emails and productivity drops to zero.

On the other side of the business, your email server might be dedicating storage and processing power to spam emails, occasionally to the point where inboxes get full and real mail is bouncing out. While most spam is simply an unwanted newsletter or sale notice, there’s also the risk that any links may be a cyber-attack in disguise. After all, one click is all it takes to open the door to viruses, ransomware, phishing or other security emergencies.

How to reduce the spam.

Normally, spam is filtered out locally by your antivirus security software (depending on your choice of software of course) and all email servers have the capacity to use in-built filtering software before you get it – one of the most common software packages being called ‘SpamAssassin’. On top of that, there are third-party anti-spam companies which you can use to add further filtering, where typically the third party gets all your emails first and processes their filtering on them, before it even gets to your server.

Also the 2003 Can Spam Act is a global set of anti-spam laws that was set up that requires all marketers to follow certain rules, like not adding people to mailing lists without their permission, and always including an ‘unsubscribe’ link. This why many companies send you an email to confirm that you want to be added to their mailing lists, even when you have asked for it in the first place.

So firstly, make sure you’re not accidentally giving people permission to email you – check the fine print or privacy policy. Next, look for the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email. Unfortunately, not all of them include the link, or they hide it somewhere impossible to see.

The worst spammers use that ‘unsubscribe’ click to confirm that your email address is valid/active and then sell it on, so don’t automatically go for the ‘unsubscribe’ link – look at the email first and decide before clicking.

If you need help with your anti-spam protection, call us on 01455 209505.

Spectre and Meltdown – What They Mean for You

Modern computers contain processors (CPUs) which do the heavy calculations that make your device work – the better the CPU, the faster your device. These computer chips are used in devices made by computer manufacturers all over the world, as well as Microsoft, Apple, Google and are in servers everywhere.

‘Spectre’ and ‘Meltdown’

Severe design flaws were recently discovered in CPUs, and these vulnerabilities were called ‘Spectre’ and ‘Meltdown’. Essentially these vulnerabilities can allow hackers to take advantage of the fact that whilst it is not being fully used, modern CPUs can do something called ‘speculative execution’. This is a techy way of saying that they take notice of what tasks you do often, and try to do those tasks for you in the background and store the data for you, so that it is quicker for you then next time you choose to do that task.

It’s a bit like going to the same coffee shop every day and one day you find that they have your cup ready for you. Except in this case instead of coffee its data – at times very important data – and that’s the problem. This data is held in something called a ‘cache’ and just sits there until it is told to clear itself.

The ‘Spectre’ vulnerability allows attackers to trick the processor into performing these speculative operations and ‘Meltdown’ can collect the data that is created. To date there have been no reports of attacks but as this has been known in the IT community for a while it is only a matter of time, especially given the fact that these vulnerabilities exist in CPUs made over very many years – so there are plenty of them to attack.

It is serious enough that CPU makers and makers of Operating Systems are rushing to get security fixes out to users. Intel are issuing updates for their processors to fix the vulnerability and AMD are working on a patch. Microsoft have issued updates for Windows 7, 8.1 and 10, with Apple have released updates for iOS11.2, MacOS 10.13.2 and tvOS 11.2. Google, Amazon etc. are also looking at the issue.

What does it actually mean for you?

The fixes that are being issued make changes to the way CPUs speed up your work – in effect the fixes are putting the brakes on the CPU to an extent and potentially reducing its performance. Some people may see a minimal impact but some may see a significant slowdown in the performance of their device after the fixes have been applied.

At the present time, it is believed that Windows 10 with newer CPUs will see a negligible impact but with older CPUs there may be a noticeable decrease in performance. Most noticeable decrease in performance are Windows 7 and 8 machines with older CPUs and according to Microsoft, fixes for Windows Servers will have a “significant impact” on performance after the updates.

It may be that over time, these updates may be refined and the impact may be reduced, but for the time being if you see a marked decrease in the performance of your device, it may well be that fixes for CPU flaws are causing it or contributing to it.

Whilst it may be unwelcome news, it is vital that you do keep all your updates current, no matter what device you are using.

If you would like help please call us on 01455 209505.

Backup up the Right Way for Businesses

The 31st of March is World Backup day and it’s a great time to put a backup in place. Businesses are losing large amounts of data every day, purely because ‘backing up’ is stuck at the bottom of their to-do list.

But how? What’s the easiest, most effective way for your business to backup?

You’ve probably heard of file backup by a number of names: Cloud Sync, Cloud Backup or Cloud Storage. They’re all similar enough to be confusing and meaningless enough to be anything, so here’s what they mean and which one you need today.

Cloud Sync

Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, etc. are services that sync up with a single folder on your computer. They mirror it. When a file changes in one, the sync service rushes to change it on your computer too, so they are always the same. Cloud Sync services are hugely flexible for remote employees, or even those squeezing in a few quick tasks while riding the train to work.

They’re easy to use, require no training, and the free tiers are enough for most individuals. Accidentally deleting a file means it disappears from the Cloud Sync drive – almost immediately – and overwriting a file does the same thing, so if an employee makes edits to the wrong file, then those edits take place. Having said that, if disaster strikes and the wrong file is overwritten or deleted, or your local copy becomes corrupted (or ransomed), even though the corruption is uploaded too, the good news is that some Cloud Sync services offer a 30 day backup option that can be used to replace deleted or ransomed files.

So when choosing which Cloud Sync to use, make sure that this is offered.

Cloud Storage

Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure, etc. are massive data centres full of storage drives that work just like your local hard drive, except that you access them securely via the internet. In fact, when you use a cloud sync app like Dropbox, they’re actually sending your data to one of these locations, but with a difference.

While the Sync services have a constant back and forth connection between the storage centre and your folder, Storage services do not – you store a backup that you instigate.

You can access cloud storage on a per/GB basis yourself and upload your entire backup as desired and even though it won’t update with changes on your local network, it will be safe from disaster. When you need to retrieve a file, you simply login and download it.

Your backed up data is secure, protected against disaster, and always available to you. However, because it relies on you/your employee to handle the backup plan and manually take care of the uploads, this is a higher-risk solution. Unless your employee is scouring your network each day/week/month for changes to files and uploading them with fervent dedication, chances are this plan won’t work.

Cloud Backup

Carbonite, Backblaze backup, Crashplan, etc. might not be names you’ve heard before, but they work in the background to monitor changes to files on your computer or network and make sure you’re backed up. You can roll back individual files or whole drives, and even select from earlier backups, not just one. Like sync services, they use cloud storage centres with extra-high security and redundancy so that your data is always there when you need it. Even better, neither you nor your employees need to worry about when it was last done.

The One You Need

Let’s talk planning. We recommend starting with the 3-2-1 strategy. This means having 3 copies in total, 2 of them locally such as on your computer and an external drive, and another offsite in the cloud. Using this strategy keeps your business operating when data disasters occur and is an investment in your uptime.

We can help get you set up with the 3-2-1 method, including selecting the best cloud service for your needs.

Need help with your backup? 3-2-1… Call us on 01455 209505.

Why People Create Viruses

Why people create viruses

You’d be right in thinking it’s hard to program a computer virus that can spread across the world in a flash – we’re talking days of constant computer nerd-work. So why do they bother? Well, it generally comes down to 3 reasons: Money, showing off their skill, or to simply be a pain – but mainly its money.

Here’s how people are making money with computer viruses: –

Bank account theft:

Virus creators are more than happy to help themselves to your bank details, sneaking in to grab your login details or credit card info. They can either transfer your funds away or use your credit card details to go on a shopping spree. Sometimes they’ll leave the fun to another person though, and simply sell your details to the highest bidder.

Ransomware:

Rather than a financial snatch and grab, sometimes a virus will encrypt your files and demand money for the unlock code. Without a true backup plan in place beforehand, you’re completely at their mercy as the encryption strength is usually pretty strong. You’ll be given very helpful information on how to pay, plus a firm deadline before your files are destroyed permanently.

Ad swappers:

A cheeky technique, this is when they create a virus that either puts annoying ads on websites you visit, or places affiliate codes on pages so that when you buy something legitimately – eg, from Amazon – they get a percentage as a ‘referral fee’. Their kickback doesn’t make your purchase cost more and you may not even know you’re supporting their activities, but its there.

Bitcoin mining:

You might have heard of digital currencies being used for payment, but did you know you can also earn them with your computer processing power? Unfortunately, ‘renting’ out your computer’s processing power means paying more in running costs than you’d make – especially if you didn’t know that your computer was doing it in the first place.

Botnets:

Infected computers can be remotely controlled to do whatever the virus creator wants. In this case, they’ll usually set the infected ‘bot’ computers to overwhelm a target web server, like an e-commerce store. Sometimes it’s done as revenge, but more often it’s blackmail. The ‘Botmaster’ says “pay me thousands or I’ll crash your site during the biggest shopping day of the year” and uses a network of potentially thousands of infected computers to do the dirty work.

Account stealing:

Subscription accounts like Netflix are often hijacked, leaving you to pay the bill for someone else’s entertainment. But sometimes, virus creators go one step further with online Gaming accounts. All those Gaming digital items that you played so hard for (special clothing, weapons etc.) can carry real world value and be stolen from your account and sold on a black market. Yes, that’s cheating!

Should this make you paranoid? Of course not, but it does reinforce the need to keep your devices secured, especially computers.

Give us a call on 01455 209505 to help make sure your computer is secure and protected.