Archive for May 2018

What is Best for your Computer – Shutdown or Sleep?

What is best for your computer - powering off or sleep?

Many times we hear the same question – should I switch off my computer or just let it sleep? Some people believe you should shut down after every use to save wear and tear, others believe you should never shut down your computer – ever.

Others simply want to make sure the pages and apps they left open are still there waiting for them. So, who’s right and what are they really doing?

Back when computers were large and clunky boxes that took a long time to start, you’d probably get fed up with the person who shut it down when it was your turn to use it. If you have an older computer, maybe you still do. Modern computers actually have two options for their downtime: Shut down or sleep.

Shutting down

When it shuts down, the system goes through what is running and closes any open programs (often prompting you to save first), then gradually cuts power to all components. It’s a methodical process that seems quite fast to us but is actually made of 100+ intentionally ordered steps – we describe it as a kind of housekeeping.

However, if there’s a sudden blackout or you hold the power button until it turns off without going through the shutdown process, it means the steps aren’t followed and damage is possible.

Sleep option

The second option is to put your computer to sleep. This can be triggered by an automated timeout or a user click. Your system uses a special type of memory called RAM to hold all your running programs exactly as you left them but uses minimal power to do so. The hard drive stops spinning, the graphics card lets the screen go black, and even the system fan slows to become almost silent.

When you wake it by moving the mouse or pressing a key, it ‘wakes’ again almost instantly.

Reasons to Shut Down a Computer

A switched off computer isn’t drawing power which is good for the environment – but shutting down is about more than just saving power. It can sometimes give improved stability over a machine that’s been running for days/weeks. This is because every time you shut down, you give your computer a chance to clear out all temporary junk files it’s been carrying in memory. It also triggers various health checks on startup that may otherwise be missed, important routines like checking for updates or scanning for viruses. It’s certainly more convenient to spend an extra minute booting up than lose everything to a cyber-attack.

For older computers or those under heavy strain like gaming or video editing, shutting down also provides a necessary chance for the components to cool down.

Reasons to put a Computer in Sleep mode

Speed is the big selling point here. You can literally sit down and start working where you left off without the delays of bootup, finding your program, opening your saved files, scrolling down… it’s all right there and ready. You can even tell it how long to wait before putting itself into sleep mode, just in case you get called away and forget.

Windows updates still run in the background, so that’s okay, but it’s important to note that your computer might get stuck waiting for a reboot that never comes. Those pending updates may stack up, ineffective until it either forces a reboot or becomes unstable enough that you give in to a restart.

For example recently, when we went out to a computer repair in Gilmorton we found that the laptop had been kept in sleep mode every day for over a week. The system was very unstable and whilst it was a quick boot up every morning, problems were stacking up.

The best method is….

Since the whole point of having a computer is that it’s ready to work when you are, we recommend shutting down at night when it’s definitely not in use but using sleep mode during the day. Updates will get all the rebooting they need, memory is refreshed for the new day, and you’ll get the best of both worlds – speed and stability.

We can help your computer boot faster, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Make your Google Searches Even Better

Make your Google searches better

Google is the most used internet Search Engine (3 billion searches a day), yet most people only use it for very basic search terms and not to its full potential. Here are a few tips to help make your searches better: –

Tell Google What You Need

Google is smart and can understand “conversational searches”, particularly voice searches such as when using a smartphone.

For example, “do I need” searches, “can I” searches, and “how much [any item] do I need” type searches are understood and can help filter to your exact point, no matter how broad it may be.

The ‘tell it what you need’ formula works for a multitude of questions – here are a few more formats to give you the idea: –

• Release dates: [movie/game] release date
• Fast facts: [name of person] death
• Stats: [city] population

Limiting Types of Results

With one additional click, you can tell Google that you only want Images, or Videos, or News, Books and more. Your initial results are presented as a combination of all types – you can see the ALL tab highlighted up at the top. Just click the tab to indicate which result type you’re really looking for and Google will be able to filter things down for you.

Using drop down Filters.

One of the least well known Google search tools is to limit results to sites from a particular country and/or time period. Do a search and at the top of the page where you can select the above tabs, click ‘Tools’ to drop down a second menu. You’ll see the option to limit Country and Time.

2 extra clicks and your search is now limited to your home country and items from a specific period only.

Using Search operators.

Search Operators are instructions to Google to make your search term more specific.

For example, enclosing your search terms in “quotation marks” binds the term together so Google can’t break it up, e.g. “Project Management” will search for those two words exactly as typed, with no substitutions.

You can use OR between words and your searches will not use the usual AND that Google places between them.

Use the term IN to convert between units, e.g. 70 mph in kph or 1lb in grams.

An Asterisk * can be a placeholder that allows you to search similar to largest * in the world or you can put site: before a domain name to search that website, e.g. site:youtube.com [name of video, person, etc.].

There are many more search operators that you can use.

Make sure its Google (or whatever search engine you normally use)

Many computers we see that are infected with viruses or malware, have their internet web browser search engine changed in what’s called a “search engine hijack”. For example during a virus disinfection in Hinckley recently it was discovered that the customer had unwittingly had their search engine changed by an unsrupulous website and their searches were routed through servers which gave biased results.

This ‘hijack’ is normally spotted when you go to your web browser one day and see that the usual search engine looks different – it may have a different name, logo or adverts displayed.

If your search engine has been changed without your knowledge, it may indicate that software has been installed without your express permission and you should scan your system with an effective security software package.

If you would like help with searching, or suspect that you may have unwanted software on your computer, give us a call on 01455 209505.

How to Survive a Hard Drive Crash

How to survive a hard drive crash

People of all ages are now storing their photos, documents and other important data digitally – it’s the march of progress and even non-technical people are learning the ropes – or at the very least know that they should back up. You can buy USB sticks and even external hard drives in supermarkets, so it is easier to back up now than ever before.

As with all things, there is a “but” and it’s something that affects a minority of customers, but if you are one of the unlucky ones, it affects you in a big way. Hard drives, USB sticks and other electronic storage can (and do) go wrong, either through age, accident, virus infection or something else.

Stop for a moment and think about what you’d lose right now if your hard drive or USB backup failed.

If you’ve ever lost your data, you know the panic and rage that follows…turning the house or office upside down, hoping desperately to find that USB stick that maybe your data was copied to, once upon a time…before collapsing onto the couch as it sinks in: there’s nothing left. Or merrily saving your backups onto the external hard drive that you’ve had a long time and which has never gone wrong – until you check it and find that it has actually gone wrong for some time and that what you thought was saved, isn’t.

So having done the right thing by backing up in the first place, you will no doubt be wondering “so what can I do then”? The thing to do is to think ahead and not be a data loss victim.

Recommended backups

Backing up used to be something only tech geeks did, but like everything else, it has gone mainstream. In an ideal world backups would follow a 3-2-1 approach: 3 copies of your data, with 2 local at your home or office and 1 offsite.

Typically, this means keeping your data on your computer, one copy of precious files on a backup USB drive, and one that automatically uploads to the secure cloud as you add new files. Why? Because that way, the USB drive protects your data if your computer dies, and the cloud copy protects you if something happens to the computer and your USB drive, like fire, flood or theft. This isn’t as far-fetched as you think, as a customer found when their back up was destroyed in the Lutterworth area recently.

3 backups are too fiddly – what backups are the minimum?

It’s a rare home where someone takes the time to sit down each week and carefully run a backup. Not that it’s tricky, but unless you’re one of those cool geeks it’s pretty boring and not a high priority after a long day! Small businesses are usually better, but not always. That’s why we recommend a cloud backup solution or letting us take care of it remotely.

At a minimum, you do need a ‘Cloud’ storage account – where a copy of your important files are kept on your computer but are automatically copied to a secure server as well. Cloud storage has multiple backups so that your data is always safe and depending on the Cloud storage that you use, you can even recover the data after a ransomware attack.

You’ll be able to retrieve files at will, without having to roll back your entire drive, and know your solution has caught even the smallest file change without you needing to flag or mark it in any way – all automatically. Even better, because it’s in the cloud, you can access your secure backup from anywhere. Left a work file at home? No problem, it’s in your cloud backup. On holiday and need to check a detail or show off a photo? No problem, it’s in your cloud backup.

Small Business Backups

As well as file backups there are cloud backup solutions that allow you to not only back up individual files, but your entire computer, so in the event of a major issue you can get your computer up and running again very quickly. In fact some cloud backup solutions even provide a virtual machine that a copy of your computer runs in, so that you can continue to work even whilst the real computer is being rebuilt.

We’re able to get you set up with the perfect backup solution that meets your needs, both now and in case of emergency. If you’re ready to protect your data before you lose it, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Common Reasons for Computers to Break

Common Reasons for Computers to Break

We know computers always break at the worst possible time, but what are the most common reasons for that failure? It’s easy to think it was something you did since you were using it at the time, but even so, normal user actions are rarely the cause of a broken computer.

Physical Damage to the Computer

Accidents happen, but they don’t always mean you need to buy a new computer. As an electrical item, liquid spills are a major problem, yet happen all the time. This could be anywhere from a spill on the keyboard to going overboard with the screen cleaning spray – it doesn’t matter too much if the keyboard is cabled or Wi-Fi to a PC, but if it’s part of a laptop then that liquid can cause serious problems.

Laptop users need to be especially careful when choosing their work surface, as cafes and kitchen tables often have small puddles left behind. If you’re lucky and the liquid didn’t fry the circuits, ongoing corrosion is still likely, as is stickiness to gum up the internal parts.

Similarly, a dropped computer isn’t going to be happy, nor is one that’s been knocked around. Even a light thump of frustration can cause loose cables, disconnections and internal damage.

Age of the Computer

Computer parts have an expected lifetime, especially moving parts like fans or mechanical hard drives. Some computers can run 24/7 for up to a decade, while others can barely be used but fail within warranty.

When age is the issue there are usually early warning signs like extra noise or slowing down, but the actual ‘break’ generally happens when you go to turn the computer on, perhaps after a crash or overnight – either it makes a valiant effort before giving up, or nothing happens at all.

Sometimes it’s luck of the draw with how the computer was manufactured, and quality does play a big part in how long it can keep churning and the phrase “you get what you pay for” does apply in the I.T. world. That unusually good deal may not be the best thing for you to spend your money on.

Power Surges

We like to think electricity is a constant stream that never varies, but computers are particularly sensitive to both surges (too much electricity) and brownouts (not enough electricity). You might notice the lights dimming or flickering during a brownout, or glowing just a tad too strong during a surge. These variations never last long, and they’re not something you can control unless it’s just your house but they can easily break your computer.

A good surge protector can guard against mild increases in voltage, but quality is key as we found recently with a customer whose PC could not boot in Gilmorton. Even though the PC power cable was attached to an extension that had a ‘surge protected label’, it was in fact a low quality one and the power surge just went straight through it.

If the surge is bad enough even a good quality surge protector may not be able to take the charge, but you stand a better chance with one than without it.

Heat

Overheating is a big contributor to premature computer death. Some computer parts run hot and need plenty of cooling to keep them working. You might not feel it from the outside, but internal components can rapidly build up heat that needs to go somewhere.

When your airflow vents get blocked with dust or pet hair, the temperature continues to increase until components literally bake themselves to failure. At set temperatures, the computer will automatically switch off to try and cool down, however the more often this happens and the higher the temperatures, the more likely your computer is to die.

This is especially true for laptops and many times we see customers using their laptops on soft surfaces such as cushions or quilts, which of course simply blocks the vents and increases internal temperature. When using a laptop, wherever possible keep the vents clear and use it on a hard surface.

Hard Drive Failure

Your data is stored on a hard drive, and if you’ve got a mechanical hard drive (most people do), it works a bit like a record player with a spinning ‘platter’ and a mechanical arm that reads it (although the ‘arm’ doesn’t actually touch the surface).

Small bumps, liquid, age, surges and overheating can all trigger hard drive failure.

Along with making your computer unusable, hard drive failure means your data is also lost. Whilst it may be a sudden breakage, take note of any strange noises or repeated crashes and back up your data in advance.

Like a car, your computer needs to be serviced. We can check your computer both physically and its software, to make its running right and will keep on working for you. Give us a call on 01455 209505.

Fake Invoice Scams are on the Rise

Businesses around the world are being struck with a cyber-attack that sends victims a fake invoice that looks real enough to fool to most employees. It’s an old scam that used to see bills faxed or mailed in, but it’s made its way into the digital world and instances are on the rise.

Chances are you’ve already seen some of the less effective attempts, like an email advising your domain is expiring, except it’s not from your host and your domain is nowhere near expiration. These new attacks are more advanced, in that they look completely legitimate and are often from contractors or suppliers that you actually use.

Logos are correct, spelling and grammar are spot on, and they might even refer to actual work or invoice numbers. The sender name may also be the normal contact you’d associate with that business, or even a co-worker, as cybercriminals are able to effectively ‘spoof’ real accounts and real people. While it’s worrying that they know enough about your business to wear that disguise so well, a successful attack relies on you not knowing what to look for, or even that fakes are a possibility. With that in mind, here are two types of invoice attacks you might receive:-

The Payment Redirect

This style of fake invoice either explicitly states payment should be made to a certain account, perhaps with a friendly note about the new details, or includes a payment link direct to the new account. Your accounts payable person believes they’re doing the right thing by resolving the invoice and unwittingly sends company money offshore.

The problem usually isn’t discovered until the real invoice from the real supplier comes in or the transaction is flagged in an audit. Due to the nature of international cybercrime, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to recover the funds even if you catch it quickly.

We have come across two small business customers recently which have been affected by this scam, locally in Lutterworth and Burbage, so it does happen to businesses of all sizes.

You may well be thinking that you would not be caught out by this – but can you say that about all your employees?

The Malware Click

Rather than go for the immediate cash grab, this style of attack asks your employee to click a link to download the invoice. The email may even look like the ones normally generated by popular accounting tools like Quickbooks (or some other well known accounting package), making the click seem safe. Once your employee has clicked the link, malware is downloaded that can trigger ransomware or data breaches.

While an up-to-date anti-virus should block the attack at that stage, it’s not always guaranteed, especially with new and undiscovered malware. If it does get through, the malware quickly embeds itself deep into your systems, often silently lurking until detected or activated.

How to Stay Safe

Awareness is key to ensuring these types of attacks have no impact on your business. As always, keep your anti-virus and spam filters up to date to minimize the risk of the emails getting through in the first place. Third party spam filters on top of your security software may also help.

Then, consider implementing a simple set of procedures regarding payments.

These could include verifying account changes with a phone call (to the number you have on record, not the one in the email), double checking invoices against work orders, appointing a single administrator to restrict access to accounts, or even two-factor authorisation for payments.

Simple pre-emptive checks like hovering the mouse over any links before clicking and quickly making sure it looks right can also help. Like your own business, your contractors and suppliers are extra careful with their invoicing, so if anything looks off – even in the slightest – hold back on payment/clicking until it’s been reviewed.

Also consider placing a message on your email signature which includes the warning that you would never advise of a change your bank details by email – only by phone or personally – to help prevent other people from falling for it.

Fake invoices attacks may be increasing, but that doesn’t mean your business will become a statistic, especially now that you know what’s going on and how you can stop them.

If you need help to increase your security, talk to us today. Call us on 01455 209505.