Author Archive for CSH – Page 7

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.

Why you should not use a free email address for your business

Don't use a free email address for your business

The message is clear: email is king. Many companies, clients and customers choose to communicate primarily by email and it is a fundamental part of marketing strategy…unless you’re using a free email like Hotmail, Gmail, or even your internet provider. If that’s the case, then you’re losing business each and every day.

Does it look professional? Probably not.

How people perceive your business is what makes your business. Imagine if banks used free email accounts – you’d never feel comfortable giving them your personal details let alone any money. Without that professional touch, you’ll appear temporary and maybe less permanent. It puts your credibility into question and sends the message that you’re not serious about doing business – or worse – that you’re prepared to cut corners.

It may misrepresent your experience

Newer businesses often start out with a free email address. The address tends to communicate that they may be new and have less experience, and are perhaps even testing the waters in a new direction. They may not be proven yet and are firmly within the hobby-zone.  Continuing to use the free address once your business moves into the professional arena means you’ll struggle to build momentum and any experience will be negated.

It’s forgettable or inappropriate

Your business success hinges on being memorable enough to gain referral custom and results from your advertising. Unfortunately, free email addresses are by default filled with hard to remember clutter, for example – joesplumbing_1985@hotmail.com or milkshakes1559@gmail.com.
Neither of these roll off the tongue, is appropriate for business, or can be remembered without a high likelihood of typing mistakes and bounce back.

Branded email addresses such as joe@joesplumbing.co.uk make running a profitable, scalable business much easier.

It’s not permanent or safe

When you use a free email address you are at the mercy of the email provider. They may close down operations or cancel your account for any reason – and there’s little that you can do. These types of accounts are also often hacked and leaked, as well as having poorly performing spam filters, if any. When a better internet or email deal comes along, you’re still stuck using the old address because it’s printed on your business cards, car lettering and flyers.

With your own domain name, you own it and can move it to a new business-grade email service easily. You’ll also have complete control over the addresses within your domain, resetting passwords and creating/closing accounts at will.

Most importantly, it costs less than you think to have branded email.

Give us a call at 01455 209505 to set up your own branded business email service.

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.

Computer Tune Ups – what to look out for

Computer tune up

Many people like to ‘tune up’ their computers and we often see various programs on customer computers that are supposed to do this.

Unfortunately some of these programs can do the opposite of tuning up your computer, so here are a few general tips about ‘tuning up’.

Registry cleaning programs

Avoid them – even Techs do not go into the Windows Registry unless they have to. The Registry in Windows is one of the most important files on your computer and contains all the settings necessary for your computer to work properly. It is so important that if there’s a problem with the Registry file, it can cripple the computer and in some cases, you would need to reinstall Windows if the Registry was corrupted.

Many ‘tune up’ programs include a Registry cleaning element and even with best efforts, a Registry cleaning program can delete or corrupt important information. Is it worth it – especially when you bear in mind that the people who make Windows, do not supply a Registry Cleaner program themselves.

If you do decide to go ahead and ‘clean’ your Registry, make sure that you do create a Registry backup, and just as importantly, know how to replace it if things go wrong.

Tune up programs

There are many of them available, both free and commercial – there are too many programs to list here but it is best to stick to well-known programs from established manufacturers. We recommend that before using any of them, research them on a search engine first to find out if they are any good or should be avoided. You do need to check exactly what they do and if in doubt, deselect the parts of the program that you are not sure about, such as anything to do with the Registry.

Some so-called tune-up programs are simply a scam – they do not do what they say they do and just look good – but are there just to take your money. Some programs are poorly written and can damage your data.

There are also many fake tune-up programs out there that contain malware, so be very careful what links you click on, as you may get a nasty surprise and it won’t be a tune up!

If you ever see a tune-up program appear that you have not deliberately installed yourself, you can be fairly certain that it’s either fake or a scam – either way, delete it straight away and if it keeps coming back or will not uninstall, contact an I.T. professional.

Computer housekeeping – defragmentation

Regular defragmentation of hard drives can help performance, because over time, data on your hard drive can get further and further apart (because it is split into smaller packets). If those pieces are too far apart, it can take longer for mechanical drives to collect all the pieces when you need them, so defragmentation brings all the pieces closer together, which can improve performance.

SSD drives are getting more popular so you need to be aware that they do not need defragmentation like mechanical drives do, as SSD drives can access information equally fast no matter where it is on the drive. In fact, SSD makers such as Samsung recommend disabling defragmentation utilities altogether, if you have an SSD drive, because SSD drives are rated by the amount of data written to them over their lifetime and running a defragmentation utility just uses up that data.

Apart from defragmenting, keep an eye on installed programs, especially those that auto start every time you switch on, as this can make things slow down, even on Windows 10 computers.

If you would like a professional tune up of your computer, give us a call on 01455 209505.

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!

Computer jargon explained

computer jargon

If you could afford it, would you buy an expensive car if you only drove it to the supermarket and no-where else? Of course not – you wouldn’t not want to pay for engine capability that you are not using, so why waste money?

The same applies to computers – don’t let sales jargon and the ‘latest and greatest’ specification fool you into thinking that you need to overspend. As we sell laptop and desktop computers, this is something we explain to customers every day.

Of course, Technology is always advancing but if you are using a computer just to go on the internet and do basic things like type documents, then you simply don’t need a high specification computer. Yes, a high specification computer is nice to have and if you choose to, you can go for what you can afford – just don’t get distracted into unnecessarily paying for more than you actually need.

Here are a few things that explain the jargon used in computing: –

‘Random Access Memory’ (RAM)

‘RAM’ is made of computer chips that temporarily store information when you switch your computer on and is vital for its usability and reliability – think of it as your desk, the bigger the desk the more work you can do. The current standard is 4GB of RAM, which is fine to run Windows and do everyday tasks. 8GB is now becoming the standard for business machines and above that is needed for people doing specialist work, such as those using ‘Virtual Machines’, or video and image editing programs, etc.

Above that 4GB or 8GB, if you are just doing everyday things with your computer then a lot of that ‘RAM’ is just sitting there doing nothing.

Hard Drive sizes

Similarly the Hard Drive standard at the moment is 500GB of storage and unless you do the things mentioned above, this size hard drive is all you need (especially if you are backing up externally – you are, aren’t you?!). Having a computer hard drive that’s double that sounds good, but if it is not filled up very much then why have it. In some cases a larger hard drive can make certain things take longer, for example when performing computer maintenance or disk scanning by a security program.

Computer Processors

The computer processor is the hard working component that dictates a lot of the speed and potential of the machine. The most common processors today are made by a company called Intel and the least powerful of their processor line up is a ‘Celeron’, then ‘Pentium’, then the ‘Core i3’, ’i5’ and ‘i7’.

The Core i3 is the standard processor for business computers, although more homes are using it too especially where more intensive programs are used, such as Photoshop.

The less powerful processors will also work and many people do use them, but there is a reduction in performance to be aware of.

‘i5’ processors tend to be used by ‘gamers’ and those tasks needing serious resources, such as speech recognition, Virtual Machines, etc.

‘i7’ processors are also used by gamers but are mainly specialist processors, are extremely expensive and also way more powerful than most home and business users need – it would be like having a sports car that never went above 30mph!

These are the three most important things to look for when looking to buy another computer. After these factors, the next important points are the reputation of the manufacturer as well as the price – genuine bargain or not?

So the next time you are in the market for a computer, don’t be blinded by science or the sales jargon – research what you need and stick to it, unless it’s a real bargain!

Call us on 01455 209505 for more advice and no obligation quotes.

Should businesses buy a Business or Consumer grade computer?

consumer or business grade computers

Businesses – should you buy a Consumer or Business PC? Before buying a computer for work, it’s important to consider whether your best bet is to get a consumer model or one built specifically for business use.

You’ve probably seen business computers with the same brand name that you have at home, but that’s where the similarities end. Investing in the right system now will pay off long term, saving you time, money and a lot of frustration. Here’s what you need to know to make the best choice for your business and budget.

Business-class Features

The operating system that comes pre-installed on a business-class computer will have features the consumer options don’t, including the ability to join corporate networks. Computers designed for home use come with Windows Home or Starter editions, which may require hours of expert assistance to link into a secure business network.

When you invest in a business computer, you may want certain inclusions built-in and ready to go – those include features that will make your network more secure and staff more productive. For example, fingerprint readers, remote desktop software and data encryption tools are available.

Usage Requirements

Work out how often you’ll be using the computer for business. If the computer is mostly for home use and only occasionally for work, then a consumer PC with the appropriate work software and settings may be fine. On the other hand, a computer that is mostly for business use should be a business-class computer, not just for security but also build quality reasons.

Build quality and Reliability

It’s probably no surprise that consumer PCs don’t have the same build quality as business ones. In fact, consumer models have a lower expected lifespan – they just aren’t built to last. Business-class computers are built to last longer, with higher quality components and rigorous testing at every level. Most parts (if not all) are name-brand with an emphasis on reliability and long term durability.

Warranty and Service

Unfortunately when a consumer PC fails, the burden is on the owner to send it away for repairs, unless you have a special deal or have bought an extension to the normal warranty. The terms of the warranty will usually state that any other attempt to repair it will void that warranty.  Repairs can then take weeks and often involve a frustrating process of paperwork and following up.

Contrast that with what happens when a business computer needs service – on a business warranty it is common for the manufacturer’s technicians to come to you and fix it – if not same day then next business day. If it has to go back to the manufacturer, the time away from you is much shorter than for a consumer warranty repair. Business users enjoy a professional experience with priority status and a dedicated support line, all designed to reduce down-time and get you operational, faster.

Talk to us today on 01455 209505 about choosing the right computer for your needs.

Free Antivirus – is it letting you down?

Free antivirus - is it good enough?

One of the best ways to avoid a computer virus is by using common sense, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be safe from attack. Even the most careful user can find themselves infected in an instant and spreading the virus faster than a sneeze in flu season. It’s why antivirus software is still the first package we install on all systems – because you never know when you’ll be attacked. But should you choose free or paid antivirus?

Advertising in the program

Much like a free mobile app making its fortune with in-app purchases, the free antivirus software will push for payment. Expect popup boxes pestering you to sign up to the paid version with some free options also trying to change your browser home page and default search engine, an inconvenience you may be stuck with. Paid options are more respectful and largely invisible unless they’ve detected a problem.

Effectiveness of free antivirus

It’s fair to expect your antivirus to detect malware, and testing showed that in a head-to-head battle free and paid are about equal at catching known infections – although some are better than others as you would expect. Unfortunately,  free antivirus generally needs to have recorded a virus into its virus lists before it can detect it. Paid antivirus is more likely to identify and stop a new virus because it also bases the detection on suspicious behaviour, the source and its attributes, a far more effective method of detection.

Features in free versions

Free antivirus programs are usually created from the paid version, taking out everything except the bare minimum. In your free version, it is unlikely that you will have all the advanced features like spam filters, firewalls, parental controls and secure web browsing. Some paid antivirus will also update your other software packages, forming a more secure protection against attacks. For example, you might view a malicious image file that takes advantage of an exploit in your PDF software so anything that reminds you to update your PDF program is a good thing. Unfortunately, hackers have advanced beyond simple tactics and it’s not just about avoiding email attachments anymore.

Support

Free antivirus options are the most popular choice because they’re… free. Obviously.  This also means there’s generally little or no support available. If there’s a problem or conflict, you may find yourself without protection until it can be resolved. Paid antivirus options usually include telephone support, ready to help with problems ranging from installation to system diagnostics.

Ease of use and flexibility

Depending on what you use your computer for, this may be an important concern. Free antivirus options are easy to install and use, but are very limited in their flexibility. They come as-is, meaning you can’t pick and choose what it monitors or how it reacts. For example, users occasionally find it necessary to disable ALL protections in order to install or play a network game. Paid versions are more likely to allow you to adapt the way the antivirus runs, switching features on and off as required e.g. many paid antivirus programs have a ‘gaming mode’ available, which restricts interference by the antivirus product.

Free antivirus is fine for very basic protection or those with an older PC. In these cases, something is always better than nothing. But we generally recommend that you go with a paid antivirus to defend you from the new attacks that are released daily, and to ensure you’ve got solid protection that will make a real difference to your digital safety.

If you want to upgrade to a paid antivirus, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Live Mail – time for an alternative?

Windows Live Mail

We see that many customers have Windows Live Mail, which is a very popular free email program that took over from the venerable old Outlook Express many years ago. However if you are still using Live Mail, its usefulness is becoming more limited so it may be a good time to look for an alternative email program.

Firstly, last year Microsoft made changes to their email systems which made Live Mail incompatible with their email infrastructure. This meant that the Microsoft email systems such as Hotmail, live.com, msn.com and outlook.com no longer worked with Live Mail.

Unfortunately, in January of 2017 Microsoft also stopped supporting the Live Mail program altogether, which meant that Live Mail no longer has the benefit of security or any other updates.

Those of you who are using different email accounts to the above may find that Live Mail is still happily collecting your emails, so you may feel that there isn’t an issue yet. The problem is that without security updates, the program itself is going to be more vulnerable and as email is one of the main conduits for viruses, malware and identity theft, it may not be a good idea to ignore the lack of updates for long.

Also, with no further updates Live Mail will effectively begin to become less reliable as more email providers update their email systems that Live Mail cannot support. Likewise, we are certainly seeing an increase in Live Mail issues and the question needs to be asked – is it worth fixing?

Alternative email programs

Windows 10 has a built-in app called ‘Mail’ (although some people consider it to still be a maturing product)  however if you are not using Windows 10, then you will need to look elsewhere. Clearly Microsoft would love customers to use Outlook, which would also mean a subscription to their Office software suite.

Alternatively you can access emails online such as from Outlook.com and certainly many people do use the very popular online ‘Gmail’ service – but not everyone wants to use an internet browser for email, especially those that are comfortable using an email program.

Alternatives programs are available, such as the email program ‘Thunderbird’ which is one of the most popular free email programs around (from the makers of the ‘Firefox’ internet browser). There are other free programs such as ‘Operamail’ (from the makers of the ‘Opera’ internet browser), ‘Mailbird’ and others, but when choosing your next free email program do bear in mind that some programs are free because they add advertising or market research tracking, so some are better than others when it comes to privacy.

Luckily whichever email program you decide to choose,  Live Mail stores emails in the industry standard .eml format, which means that it is fairly easy to transfer the emails from Live Mail into another program.

If you would like help in moving to another email program, please call 01455 209505.

How to spot a Tech Scam

avoiding computer scammers

If your computer had a virus, you’d want to know about it ASAP, right?

Before your important files become corrupted, you lose your photos and your digital life is essentially destroyed. Even thinking about it is terrifying.

Tech scammers know we’d be lost without our computers, and that we don’t always know what’s going on behind the screen – which is why they’ve been able to swindle millions from every day people across the world.

The scam goes like this:-

You receive a random phone call from someone with a heavy accent  saying they’re from Microsoft, Talk Talk, BT or some other well-known company, or an alarming pop-up appears on the screen, saying it looks like your system has been infected with a virus.

The real Microsoft will never randomly call people like this. Ever.

To fix the problem, they need to you to download some support software, which they’ll give you a special link for.

A technician then uses that software to gain access to your system and make it appear your system is riddled with viruses. Flashing screens, mysterious diagnostics whizzing by, fabricated errors…they’ll do or say anything to make you panic. They’ll even go as far as claiming your system has been infected with illegal content and if not corrected, you’ll face criminal charges.

Demands for credit card information follow immediately after. Once paid, they simply stop fiddling with your system to make it seem the problem is fixed. To continue the scam, they’ll soon access your system to recreate the problem, this time offering a subscription for ongoing protection.

What To Do If You’re Targeted By A Tech Scam

  1. Don’t taunt them. Just hang up. Right now you’re only a phone number in their system and they’ll move onto the next – if you give them cause to target you personally, you may find yourself in a worse situation.
  1. If a pop-up appears, immediately run an anti-virus scan. Don’t click the pop-up or call the number.

What To Do If You’ve Already Been Scammed

It’s okay. It feels horrible, but you’re not alone and the situation can be corrected.

Call your financial institution and have the charges reversed and your card reissued. It’s easier than you might think and helps the authorities locate the scammers.

Then give us a call on 01455 209505 and we’ll make sure they no longer have access to your computer.