Windows 10 Updates and Avoiding Problems

Windows 10 logo

On our travels visiting customers, we find that Windows 10 Updates can cause a lot of aggravation and some severe problems. Here is some information that may help to reduce issues.

Window Updates has had a chequered history, with most people finding that whilst Updates are a ‘necessary evil’, they can also be a pain in the neck. Whether the computer decides to update itself at the wrong (usually the worst) time, breaks something when you reboot or just doesn’t reboot at all, Windows Updates can be very frustrating.

The problem is that they are needed and Windows 10 now forces you to have them.

What you can and cannot do with Updates

Windows Updates in Windows 10 can also be a pain, although updates in 10 are treated very differently from previous versions – such as the fact that you cannot switch Updates off, as in previous versions of Windows. Although in Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise versions, you can delay the updates, you cannot stop them. (Go to Settings > Update and Security > Windows Update > Advanced Options to delay Updates).

(Yes there are hacks found on the internet which may stop them for a period of time, but it is not recommended).

What you can control about Updates

Have you had a Windows Update interrupt you whilst you are working? A welcome change in later versions of Windows 10 is that there is now a setting which allows you to tell the computer when it must not interrupt with an update. (Go to Settings > Update and Security > Windows Update and set your ‘active hours’).

Why are Updates different in Windows 10?

Windows 10 is classed as ‘Windows as a service’. Amongst other things, this means that the traditional “new” version of Windows no longer happens, so don’t expect Windows 11 any time soon.

What Microsoft has done is to add and change features in Windows 10, but essentially keep it as Windows 10. This means that instead of brand new versions of Windows, Windows 10 itself will be updated to the latest version, (much like Apple updates its devices) – and it’s this feature update that is causing the most issues, particularly on older computers.

Also, individual updates are now bundled into what is called cumulative updates – in other words, it’s all or nothing.

What can be done to minimise Update problems?

Much of what you can do is common sense, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who either put things off or just do not do it.

Back up! Back up your important files – Photos, Documents, whatever – you need to protect them.

Power – if you are using a laptop, make sure that it is plugged in at the wall and that the lid is left open. Much of the time, battery power alone is not enough to provide power through an update and the battery running out will have the same effect as switching it off part way through the Update.

Never, ever interrupt the Update– when the computer screen says “do not switch off” it means it. If an Update is interrupted it can cause significant damage to Windows, as Updates deal with important system files.

Be patient – updates can take a long time (hours in many cases). For example, if you have left the computer on overnight for the update to take place, but when you go back to it there is nothing on the screen and you cannot do anything with it, don’t switch it off, call a technician for advice.

Windows Updates are here to stay and hopefully you will not be in the situation where an Update has ‘broken’ something.

If you do need help with a Windows Update issue, give us a call on 01455 209505.

What’s That Weird Noise Coming from Your Computer?

Listen out for computer noise

New computers are whisper quiet compared to older models as they generally have quieter components, but after a while computers can start making some pretty weird noises. Clicks, clunks, and about-to-take-off jet noises are the most common, but when should you be concerned?

Your computer has a number of moving parts and even some stationary parts that can make noises. If you’re listening, your computer might be telling you about its current health and how you can help it run smoother, for longer.

When you hear a clicking noise:

This could be normal if it’s more like a soft tick. Mechanical hard drives work a bit like a record player with a needle arm and platter, although in this case, the ‘needle’ arm never touches the platter, it just reads it. So you might simply be hearing it spin up and move the needle arm around.

When it starts sounding like a loud click it’s usually not good news. If your hard drive has started making alarming noises, you should bring it in as soon as possible. Just like a record player, scratches that ruin your data are possible, and if ignored for long enough, it doesn’t just skip and have trouble reading the drive, the whole thing can become unusable.

Our technicians can copy the files onto a new drive before it gets to that point, but retrieving data from a destroyed hard drive is rarely achieved without CSI-level expenses. It’s easier and much cheaper to replace the hard drive at the first sign of failure.

When you hear a clunking noise:

Unsurprisingly, this one causes certain alarm. Computers aren’t meant to go clunk! It may be a simple matter of a cable having shifted into the path of a fan and getting clipped during the spin. Remember when you pegged a card between your bicycle spokes? It might sound a little like that, skipping every now and then as it’s pushed away and drops back again.

If that’s the case, our technicians will quickly secure the cable back where it belongs.

When you hear a jet-engine noise:

Most computers and laptops have fans to keep them cool. The fans have to spin to move the air around, and the faster they’re spinning, the more noise they make. We start to worry when the jet-engine noise gets out of hand and especially when it’s not just while you’re playing a resource-intensive game or doing some video editing.

Constant jet-engine noise indicates your computer is struggling to cool itself down, perhaps because the fan vents are clogged with dust, your computer is in a poorly ventilated space, or the fan itself is worn. Each fan has ball bearings inside that wear out over time, making extra noise while it does the best it can.

Our technicians can replace individual fans and give your system a checkup to make sure nothing else has been affected.

When it’s beep time:

Most computers have a friendly beep as you switch it on but these beeps actually have multiple meanings. The single beep you normally hear indicates that it’s run a self-test and everything is fine. When your computer is unwell, you might hear more beeps than usual. This is because each beep combination is a code to technicians, letting us know what’s gone wrong.

Certain beep combinations mean the memory is loose or damaged, others that the video adapter has a problem, etc. If your computer has started beeping differently, let our technicians know so we can decode it and repair the problem for you.

Some noises your computer makes will be normal, others a sign of deeper issues. Even if your computer seems to be operating correctly, a sudden onset of weird noises could mean failure is just around the corner or at the very least, something needs investigating. Taking early action ensures problems don’t escalate, costs are kept low, and your files remain where they belong.

Got some weird noises coming from your computer? Give us a call today on 01455 209505.

Is it Time to Retire That Program? Here’s How to Tell

Is it Time to Retire That Program?

Most businesses have been using the same set of applications for some time, sometimes since the business started. This also applies to most Homes too, although with businesses the need to upgrade can be essential to business efficiency.

While you’ve been replacing computers and devices regularly to maintain your advantage, the standard installation has remained largely the same. The programs do the job and everyone knows how to use them, so why upgrade? In some cases, it’s completely fine to keep that legacy program.

However, all users of older programs should consider these aspects:

Support Available

Occasionally, and more frequently with software from smaller developers, the author has moved on from supporting the program, such as what happened with an old DOS program used by a Fleckney business. Their very old program was vital but the author of the program was no longer involved with it and it was running on an old, failing Windows XP machine. It needed to be transferred to a new computer.

Luckily we were able to get the old program running on a new PC, inside a ‘Virtual Machine’ (a computer running in software within another computer), which extended the programs life and also gave that business a bit longer to find a replacement program. The point is that it could have gone the other way and the author was not there to help.

Perhaps the author has closed the business, sold it, or changed directions completely. Either way, they’re no longer interested in helping you get the best from the program. Every time your employees come up against a problem they have nowhere to turn and productivity takes a hit as they try and come up with a workaround.

Meanwhile, you run the risk that an older program could suddenly stop working after a Windows update, begin clashing with other essential software, or even create gaping holes in your security. As you are aware, even the bigger companies like Microsoft stop supporting software after a while, as they have with earlier versions of Windows. Having support available to both assist and protect is a huge asset to your business.

Hardware Compatibility

Imagine picking up a brand-new computer and trying to insert a 5 ¼ floppy disk – that’s the 1980s retro square ones bigger than your hand – it doesn’t matter how effective that program will be, modern technology simply has no idea what to do with it. Thanks to the rapid advancement of computer hardware, you may find a simple component refresh leaves your legacy program completely incompatible or inaccessible.

The latest CPU (computer processor) that’s supposed to speed things up, suddenly brings an entire business to a standstill, purely because it’s too advanced. Many owners work around this by keeping some older systems running exclusively for that program, but as the classic hardware fails, you may find yourself struggling to find replacement parts or technicians able to install them.

Security Vulnerabilities

Broadly speaking, the longer a program has been around, the longer hackers have had to discover its weaknesses. It could be a flaw in the program itself, or in the operating system that runs it. For example, the application may only run on Windows XP, but Windows XP is one of the earlier versions that Microsoft has stopped supporting. As the older operating systems and programs aren’t being patched, cyber criminals pour more energy into finding flaws they can exploit.

It’s how hospitals across the UK found themselves infected with ransomware last year, simply because they were running programs with known weaknesses.

As it’s not always feasible to replace a program immediately, we can help you run it on a virtual machine as explained earlier. You’ll have increased security, an element of support and a strong backup system while you work to find a replacement program.

These types of solutions are very specialized and resource hungry though, so let us know if you need help.

The other option is to migrate to a new program that does what you want, and is supported, hardware compatible and secure. If you’ve been running the old program for some time, this may feel quite daunting at first. Before you rule it out, keep in mind you’ll also be gaining the benefits of faster software, more integrated processes and a highly flexible system.

Need to talk through your options? Give us a call on 01455 209505.

New Computers – Buying and Setting Up

New Computers - Buying and Setting Up

Shopping for a new Computer?

It’s a decision that comes with equal doses of excitement and anxiety – unlike popping out to the shops for a new toaster, choosing the right computer comes with so many questions, most of which are usually asked in some sort of alien language. Helpful sales people offering RAM as it were a side of fries, measuring CPU speeds in ‘cores’, and listing specifications that mean nothing to you or what you want to do, can sometimes get in the way of helping you make the right choice.

That’s where we start. Not with tricky language that only makes sense to other computer geeks, we simply find out what you plan to use your computer for, then help you do it. Depending on your needs, we’ll make sure that you do not overspend on specifications you don’t need, after all, it’s nice to have a Porsche but you don’t need to pay for one to just go to a supermarket!

New computer – what next?

Once you’ve got that new machine home and out of the box, you’ve inhaled that new tech smell and taken plenty of selfies to remember the moment forever, the anxiety can come flying back in. Which cord goes where? It doesn’t work like your old one! Why is it doing that?! How to put programs back on? Does it come with security already loaded?

If you’ve had your old computer for a few years, you know you’re in for a bit of inconvenience, no matter how shiny the replacement is. We can assist you and make it all so much easier.

If you buy the computer elsewhere, we can set it up for you and deal with any issues that may happen.

If you have bought the computer from us, installation is already included in the price, so you don’t have to worry.

Transfer your old files for you.

One thing most people forget during their new computer bliss-phase is how to get information off your old computer and onto your new one. If your old computer is too broken to boot up, this can be a real problem. We can either turn the old hard drive into an external drive for you or copy the data onto storage media such as a USB stick.

If the computer does boot up normally, we can copy your files and transfer them to the same place on your new computer, for example Documents, Emails, Photos, etc. You’ll be able to pick out the files you need and continue what you were doing.

If you’d prefer, we can often install the old hard drive inside your new desktop so it’s always there and you have extra storage as a bonus.

Setting up your email.

It’s no secret, setting up email can cause headaches even for a tech person. Getting the settings right can sometimes be more error than success. The most common problem we see is email that can receive, but not send. It’s a frustrating problem, especially when you’re sending important emails. We can set your email up successfully and ensure it both sends and receives, as well as add in any additional accounts you’d like to manage from the same app.

Save your favourites.

All those bookmarks you’ve made and carefully sorted (or not) are important. You may even have different collections of favourites in different browsers and the last thing you want to do is go find those pages again. We can retrieve your old favourites and put them onto your new computer, making your browser experience look and feel exactly as it did before, only faster.

Setting up your software.

A common misconception is that many people believe that you can copy a program from one computer to a new one, but the fact is that there is no reliable way of doing that.

So if you are using, say, Microsoft Office that you’ve had for years, but no longer have the CD or activation code, then you will need to replace it. We can advise on what is best to replace programs and not all replacements need to be purchased again.

We can help you re-download your programs and set up the licenses good as new. As technicians, we also tend to go one step beyond and make sure the new software is optimized, updated and working well. While we’re doing that, we can make sure that your anti-virus is up-to-date and you’re as secure as possible against threats.

Connect extra devices

Sometimes it’s a matter of knowing what cord goes where or getting the right adapter, but sometimes new devices can present software problems. Printers, webcams, game controllers, etc all have unique drivers that need to be installed before they can work properly. Windows 10 is great at picking most of these up automatically, but if they’re not playing nice or your new computer is suddenly missing the correct plug, we can help get you moving again.

Whether you buy the computer from us or somewhere else, we can set all of this up and get you running on your new computer. Call us today on 01455 209505.

Should You Pay for a Ransomware Attack?

Getting hit with a ransomware attack is never fun, your files get encrypted by cybercriminals and you can no longer access them, so you’re left having to decide: should we pay to get them back? It’s a scene that’s played out across the world with 70% of businesses saying ‘yes’ in 2016 alone.

Here’s what you should consider if you’re ever in this situation.

Do you trust them?

Besides the fact that they’re criminals holding your data hostage, how confident are you that they’ll send the decryption key or that it will even work? Most attackers demand you send the payment via untraceable Bitcoin, so you have no recourse if they take it and run. You’re also equally trapped if they decide they asked too little and come back with increasingly higher demands.

If they do send the decryption key and you successfully decrypt your files, be aware they still have access to your systems and can hit you again at any time until your network is disinfected by experts. Businesses don’t exactly want their breach publicized either, so many don’t admit to paying the ransom, whether it went to plan or otherwise.

Can you manage the impact of a Ransomware attack?

Best case scenario, you can wipe the affected drives and restore from a clean backup without paying the ransom. You might even decide the encrypted files aren’t that important and simply let them go, or even wipe a whole laptop or workstation.

On the other hand, if your data management comes under any special regulations, like health or legal, you may find the attack has a much wider, more intense impact.

The attacker will usually give you a countdown to motivate a payment, with a threat of deletion when it hits zero. If the data isn’t that valuable, or you have confirmed backups, this urgency has no effect.

There are also new types of ransomware like KillDisk which can permanently wipe your entire hard drive.

How much do they want?

Cybercriminals rarely send out global attacks with set amounts, instead, they prefer to customize the ransom based on how much they think you can pay. Large corporations and hospitals (remember the NHS Ransomware incident not too long ago) are hit with very high demands, while small business demands are more modest. They may be criminals, but they’re smart people who know your financial limits.

They’ll also consider how much similar businesses have paid and how quickly, then expect you to follow suit.

Are your backups good?

Many businesses are discovering too late that their backup systems aren’t robust enough to withstand this type of attack. Either they’ve become infected too, they weren’t up-to-date or they backed up the wrong data.

It’s worth doing some quick checks on your backup processes as even if you have to take the system down for a day as you recover, you’re still light years ahead of those without them.

Can you prevent Ransomware attacks in the first place?

There may have been a time when you didn’t have to consider ransomware as an issue and just had to have some form of basic antivirus service running on your computer – but unfortunately this is no longer the case. You need a good security system in place that includes some form of ransomware protection.

Ransomware is constantly evolving and security is always playing catch-up, so go for the best performing security system – not necessarily the cheapest.

Reduce routes of infection

Ransomware is showing no signs of slowing down. As more businesses keep them funded the cybercriminals are steadily launching new attacks and making it their full-time job. Most attacks come via phishing emails – those emails that trick employees into clicking a link – and they can be extremely convincing. While training helps people spot them, it’s no guarantee.

We recommend using business-class spam filters to catch these types of emails before they land in your employee inboxes so that triggering a ransomware attack becomes something that happens to other businesses, not yours.

Secure your data systems now, we can help! Call us on 01455 209505.

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.