Archive for April 2018

A Free Alternative to Microsoft Office

A Free Alternative to Microsoft Office

When buying a new computer or even reinstalling Windows on an existing computer, many people do not realise that there is no way to reliably transfer a program from one computer to another. That is fine so long as you don’t need to reinstall a program, but there are no guarantees that you will never need to replace your hard drive, or have to reinstall Windows due to a virus infection or some other cause of data corruption, so you may have to reinstall software.

In the past week alone we have had to repair a local PC in Broughton Astley due to a power surge that corrupted the computer file system and also had to reinstall Windows on a local laptop in Hinckley that had a failed hard drive that needed replacing.

Also when we deliver a new computer, we often see a frown on customer’s faces when they try to remember where they put those program installation disks from years ago.

Many times you can just download new device driver software, but when it comes to something like Microsoft Office, it’s a whole new ballgame. All those documents, spreadsheets, etc. need a program to open them and if you don’t have one, you can have a real problem.

If you have found the installation disk, great. If you just have a card with an activation code, you may be able to download the Office software again, depending on the version of Office that you have. Similarly if you bought a download installation package, you may be able to download it again.

But if you do not have the original Office installation disk or installation package, what are your options? Microsoft no longer supply CDs of their software and similarly you can no longer buy individual Office programs such as Outlook or Word. Essentially you have two choices – you either buy an expensive download or rent the Office software on an annual basis.

The Free Office Alternative

There is however a free alternative to Microsoft Office, called Libre Office.

This is an alternative Office suite that is compatible with Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, Powerpoint files and more, and it is free because it is Open Source software. So you can carry on using the files that you already have, without having to buy another copy of Office.

Libre Office is not just for use in the Home, we know of small businesses that choose to use it for general office tasks too. It is reliable and is compatible to a high degree.

Unfortunately, this free software does not provide an alternative to the Outlook email program.

Be careful what you download

If you want to get the Libre Office download, you can get the software from their website at https://www.libreoffice.org/.

If not going straight to the website to get the download, be very careful where you download it from as there are websites out there that try to get you to download it from them, but it is not the genuine article and may even contain malware.

Why not try it out? You may find that you can save yourself some money!

If you need help in transferring your data or installing software, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Upgrading your Computer instead of Buying

Upgrading your computer

Computer technology is always getting updated and after a while the next “latest and greatest” piece of kit comes out. But do you need to keep buying that “latest and greatest”, after all most computers get slower the older they are?

Actually you don’t. Depending on how old your computer or laptop is, there are things that can be done to try to speed things up and help you to put off having to buy another machine.

Regular computer maintenance

The first thing is regular maintenance – such as running ‘Disk Cleanup’ and ‘Defragmenter’ which get rid of the clutter of unused files and arrange the files so that your computer doesn’t waste time looking for them. Both of these can be found in the Start > Program menu > Accessories > System Tools (Windows 7) or search for them on the taskbar of Windows 10 (Windows 10 has regular defragmenting enabled, but check when it last took place as it may be scheduled when the computer is usually off).

Adding computer memory

After this, you may get a speed boost by adding memory (called Random Access Memory or RAM), but many people get confused with this term. The hard drive is the permanent storage for Windows, your programs and files but the memory in your computer  does a lot of the hard work because when you switch on, a copy of everything is loaded into that memory, so that you can use the computer.

The more computer memory you have, the more the computer can do, a bit like having a small desk or a larger one. If you have too much ‘RAM’, your computer will not get any faster so your money can be wasted but not having enough can make your computer slow down to a crawl.

Installing memory is easy, takes next to no time (although you need to be careful and take anti-static precautions) and is relatively cheap. For example, a recent customer wanted to do a PC upgrade in Lutterworth and doubling the ‘RAM’ in their PC increased performance noticeably.

Upgrading your Hard Drive

It’s not just memory ugrades – upgrading the hard drive is also an option. Another customer wanted an SSD PC upgrade in Broughton Astley, where they had a PC with a mechanical hard drive and wanted the much faster SSD drive replacing it, as an SSD drive is an electrical one with no (slower) moving parts. The difference in boot time and responsiveness was dramatic.

Another factor in how well your computer works (particularly when booting up) is how many programs or apps are set to automatically start whenever you switch on. These days many programs assume that they should start automatically but the more that do, the slower boot time gets and your computer resources are being used up, making your computer slower over time.

Simply click the Windows icon key on your keyboard and the letter ‘R’ at the same time, type msconfig in the box, select the startup tab and check what is loading.Whilst this is technically not an upgrade, it can help speed things up a little – you just need to make sure that you only switch off those programs/apps that you don’t need, as some things in that list need to run for the computer to work properly.

Obviously when deciding whether to upgrade or buy new, you need to take into account the age of the computer as you don’t want to spend too much on an old machine, but if you spend wisely you can put off the new purchase for a bit longer.

If you would like help or advice about upgrading your computer, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Phishing – What Is It and How to Avoid It

Phishing – What Is It and How to Avoid It

There’s always some IT jargon to contend with and here is another one – ‘Phishing’ – but you do need to look out for it. ‘Phishing’ is the attempt to obtain your personal information (login details, credit cards etc.) by someone pretending to be someone trustworthy in an email or other electronic communication.

Typically, they may try to get you to a website which may look completely legitimate and identical to the genuine website, such as a bank, and there they get you to disclose information that they want for their own purposes. On the face of it you may read this and think “They wouldn’t catch me out”, but they are very good at what they do and can be very persuasive.

A single click can be the difference between maintaining data security and suffering financial losses and not just personal bank accounts – businesses are especially vulnerable. From the moment just one employee takes the bait in a phishing email, your business is vulnerable to data breaches and extensive downtime.

As well as being vigilant, here are a few tips for things to look for :-

1. Poor spelling and grammar

While occasional typing errors happen to even the best of us, an email filled with errors is a clear warning sign. Most companies push their campaigns through reviews where errors are caught and corrected. Unlikely errors throughout the entire message indicate that the same level of care was not taken, and therefore the message is possibly fraudulent.

2. An offer too good to be true?

Free items or a lottery win sound great, but when the offer comes out of nowhere and with no catch? Take care not to get carried away and do not click without investigating deeper. Remember, this can look as though this is coming from anyone that you may actually happen to deal with – your broadband provider, bank or any other source – and the criminals have just struck lucky in your case that you are an actual customer.

3. Random sender who knows too much

Phishing has advanced in recent years to include ‘spear phishing’ (more jargon!), which is an email or offer designed especially for you or your business. Culprits take details from your public channels, such as a recent function or award, social media, etc. and then use it against you.

The only clue can be that the sender is unknown – they weren’t at the event or involved with you in any way. Take a moment to see if their story checks out.

4. The Website address or email address is not quite right

One of the most effective techniques used in phishing emails is to use domains which sound almost right. For example, [microsoft.info.com] or [pay-pal.com]. This technique is also used in search engine listings where someone pretends to be a company.

Hover over the link with your mouse and review where it will take you. If it doesn’t look right, or is completely different from the link text, send that email to the bin.

5. It asks for personal, financial or business details

Alarm bells should ring when any message contains a request for personal, business or financial information. If you believe there may be a genuine issue, you can check using established, trusted channels such as calling the company using a telephone number that you know is genuine.

Take care if using a search engine to get the number – ensure that the information comes from the genuine website (see tip No.4 above).

While education is the best way to ensure phishing emails are unsuccessful, a robust spam filter and solid anti-virus system provide peace of mind – especially if you are running a business.

Give us a call on 01455 209505 to discuss how we can help secure your system against costly phishing attacks.

3 Internet Habits to Keep Children Smart and Safe

Protect Children Online

How can you make the internet a safer place for your children? It’s a common concern as all parents want their children to be protected and happy whenever they go online. It’s relatively easy to supervise and monitor the very young ones as they stare delightedly at the Disney website, but the risks increase greatly as children get older and more independent.

Safe internet usage goes beyond reminding them not to talk to strangers. With the evolution of the internet and the way it’s now woven seamlessly into our lives, the focus now needs to be on ingrained habits. That means ensuring your children have the tools and responses to online events so that no matter what happens, they’re not placing themselves (or your family) at risk.

Setting up these habits is easy, and begins with three basic understandings:-

Downloads are a no-go

Most children can’t tell the difference between a legitimate download and a scam or malicious link. It’s not their fault, the online world is full of things that will trick even the most savvy adult. The difference is that children tend not to take that extra moment to check exactly where that link is pointing, question whether it’s too good to be true, or even read what they’re agreeing to.

For example, only this morning we collected an infected computer in Lutterworth which had become infected through a teenager downloading software which unknown to them, contained malware.

They want to get back to what they were doing, and if something pops up, their first instinct is to click ‘yes’ – purely so that it goes away. Unfortunately virus and malware writers know this and target children, for example games software patches and music are prime examples. That single click ‘yes’ may have just opened the door to malware and viruses that will ruin their computer – or worse.

Set a family rule that they need to ask permission for all downloads (and an adult will check it first), and to never ever click a popup. When you’re called over to give download permission or check a popup, talk through exactly what you’re checking and why. As your child matures, get them involved in this process so their safe habits extend outside the home.

Critical thinking is essential

Most youngsters think the internet is a magical place and can’t imagine their life without it. With that acceptance though, comes unwavering trust that the internet would never lie to them, never trick them and never hurt them. While we adults know better, it’s only because we already view the internet with a certain level of distrust.

The best way to keep children safe is to teach them to view the internet with critical thinking and not be blindly trusting. That includes teaching them to question the motives of other people online. Is that person really a child? What do they really want? Simply make them think that they need to treat the internet in the same way as they should beware of strangers in the street.

Unfortunately, all children do need to be aware that predators use the internet to target and lure children. Ensure your children tell you immediately if a stranger makes contact. Along with this stranger danger, teach them to identify what marks something as suspicious, and what they should avoid. If they come across anything inappropriate, they should shut down the computer and come straight to you.

The internet is forever

Children have an overwhelming drive to contribute to the internet, they don’t think twice about recording a video, jumping in a chat room or onto social media. The world really is their playground!

But what they don’t understand (until its too late), is that anything that they upload, write or say is on the internet forever. Even if they delete it or use a platform where content self-erases, someone can still screenshot and send it right back out.

Many cyber-bullying cases are based around this exact type of scenario.

Once your children know that everything they post is permanent, they’ll hopefully be more likely to pause and think before posting – every time.

If you would like us to help you to secure your computer and help keep your family safe – give us a ring on 01455 209505.

Business Security When an Employee Leaves

Security after an employee leaves

We have seen businesses which have experienced issues after an employee has left their job – either when leaving voluntarily or otherwise – and any in many cases it is because no-one has considered the potential for disruption caused by I.T. when staff are leaving.

Your employees need access to your various business accounts so they can do their job, but what happens to those passwords when they leave? What effect can their leaving have on the security of the business? Nobody likes to think of this but nonetheless, it’s a responsibility every business owner and manager must face at some point.

Most of the time, the former employee leaves under good terms and you’ll wish them well. If you’re lucky, they’ll even manage the hand-over to their replacement so that your productivity losses are minimal. Other employees may leave your business reluctantly or in a storm of anger and suspicion.

Either way the risk to your business remains high until action is taken.

Here are 3 steps you can take to protect your business from retaliation and other password-related disasters.

Limit access to a need-to-know basis

You might be surprised how often a new employee is presented a huge amount of  business information on a platter when their actual job requires little more than a computer login. Accounts, strategy, customer details, industry secrets…all those sensitive aspects of your business that have made it a success – exposed.

A better policy is to limit access to only what the employee needs to do their job. Rather than view it as a lack of trust, your employees should appreciate the care you’ve taken to protect your business (and their job). It also helps keeps them from being overwhelmed, confused or tempted if the situation ever turns sour.

Likewise, take a few moments to delete old or temporary accounts that are no longer required, as you never know when a hacker or disgruntled employee will squeeze through the gaps, for example as we found a local business in Lutterworth had an ex-employee still accessing their work email address!

Change passwords fast

On average, it takes at least a week before passwords are changed after an employee has left, if at all. Unfortunately, this is the one type of delay your business can’t afford.

In 2017, an ex-employee from the American College of Education held their entire email system to ransom for $200,000 after an unhappy exit. Stories of others stealing client databases are also common, especially if they leave to start their own business or work for a competitor. Having a contract preventing an employee from setting up in competition with you does not prevent someone getting a copy of the customer database.

It’s not just full-time employees either, contract and part-time employees such as social media managers and customer support staff often have access to more of your business than you might imagine. Recent rulings make it easier for business owners to prosecute former employees who access their systems, however as we know, it only takes seconds to login and wreak absolute havoc.

Knowing you can force those bad eggs into a lengthy court case is poor comfort considering the extent of damage and hassle you’ll experience. The best option is to change passwords fast as this lessens the chance of revenge attacks and opportunistic access.

Use a password manager

If you have good password manager like LastPass, reducing your password risk becomes mostly automated. You’ll be able to keep your logins in a central vault that only you can see, and share based on business roles/need. There’s even an option to share passwords without letting employees see them in plain-text.

Instead of writing passwords down somewhere and manually entering them each time, they’ll be able to connect securely with a click. Plus, you can revoke the share at any time. If their role changes or they leave, you can use the dashboard to see who is having access to what and add/revoke permission at will. If you’re not sure what that employee has been up to, you can also generate reports of their history.

Having a procedure in place when an employee leaves, as well as a review of your employees access levels can prevent a lot of disruption in the future and is a worthwhile investment in your time.

We can help you set up password management and lock down your network. Call us on 01455 209505.