Archive for General advice

Update iTunes and iCloud against Ransomware Vulnerability

Update iTunes - Ransomware Exploit

A vulnerability has been found in the Windows version of iTunes and iCloud, which may allow ransomware to be inserted into Windows computers, bypassing antivirus security programs.

Mac versions are not affected.

Bonjour software exploited

The Bonjour component that both iTunes and iCloud uses, is meant to allow communication between devices on your network and is often used to allow Windows to communicate with Apple devices.

A bug has been found (by security company Morphisec) in Bonjour, called a ‘zero day vulnerability’ which in geek-speak, is an ‘unquoted service path’ – essentially code which has been written incorrectly. As iTunes and iCloud are classed as trusted programs, the vulnerability can avoid antivirus security software and install ransomware software, which can potentially encrypt hard drives and prevent you accessing your data.

Get your iTunes and iCloud update patches

Apple has now patched the vulnerability in iTunes 12.10.1 and iCloud 7.14, so grab your updates if you haven’t already and ensure that automatic updates are enabled, to provide maximum benefit from security fixes in the future – especially as other vulnerabilies were found at the same time, which are yet to be resolved.

Uninstalled iTunes? You can still be vulnerable

Even if you have previously uninstalled iTunes, the Bonjour software is probably still present on your system, as it is a separate program and is not automatically uninstalled when iTunes is removed.

If Bonjour is still on your system it may be still have background services running but in a potentially unpatched state, so you would need to go to your Control Panel and remove it manually.

How to Get Your Devices to Play Nicely Together

Connect your Network Devices

Desktop computers. Laptops. Tablets. Network printers. Routers. Smartphones. Smart speakers. Media players. Gaming systems. Homes today have many, if not all of these. Each has all sorts of features, and they’d be even more useful if they connected to one another. If only it wasn’t so challenging to get all our devices to relay information between each other reliably.

Home networking can bring so many benefits. You might enjoy:
• accessing emails on all your devices, wherever you are;
• surfing the Web using your voice;
• being able to share files, photos, and other media with any other networked device;
• viewing a baby photo album from your computer on your Smart TV
• printing from your smartphone or other devices, even when not connected to the device via cable, using AirPrint or Google Cloud Print;
• backing up all computers in the house to a centralized location via the network;
• securing your activity on all devices at home with a protected Wi-Fi network.

Yes, all that sounds pretty good, but how do we get our devices to do all that?

What Your Home or Business Network Needs

First, take a moment to imagine connecting all the computers and smart devices in your home or office via cables. As if you want more cables snaking around! So, you’ll be looking into a wireless network to connect your devices to the internet and each other. That means setting up a router (we’re assuming you already have an internet service provider).

The router connects you to the internet with its built-in modem, but just as importantly it connects your devices to each other. The router communicates the wireless signal between your devices and gives each device its own address on your network.

If your home or office is spread out over several floors or square feet, or you have to deal with thick walls, you might have difficulties with Wi-Fi dead spots. Don’t worry! You could try a mesh network (where instead of making one device do all the signaling, a primary router and many smaller satellites or nodes relay the signals with equal power) or use a Powerline setup which uses your electrical wiring.

Securing Your Home or Business Network

When you get your devices connected, you’ll want to secure your network. Taking these simple steps helps protect your personal information and prevent cyberattacks.

First, change the default passwords on your router, and choose something more complex than “123456,” “password,” or anything else easily guessable. You may also want to set up a guest network if the router supports it. This allows visitors to access the Wi-Fi without you having to share access to your main network.

Also, rename your Wi-Fi network so that it isn’t obvious that it’s your premises or what broadband router type you have. For example, if you live at 920 Hassell Place, you wouldn’t name it 920Hassell. Or, if you’ve got, for example, a BT router, don’t leave it with the name it came with as it’s a starting point for anyone trying to get into your network – don’t make it easy for someone trying to target you to identify which network they are trying to hack.

For business networks, there are other considerations too, but the above is a good starting point.

You like using all your devices, but getting them all networked seems like a headache. Still, once you have a network set up, you’ll wonder why you waited so long.

We can help you get all your devices playing together nicely and securely. Contact us today on 01455 209505!

Does Wifi Mesh Make Sense for You?

Does Wifi Mesh Make Sense for You?

Wi-Fi is a top contender for a technology most of us rely upon. After all, Wi-Fi often provides our wireless high-speed internet and network connections. We couldn’t work from wherever we wanted in our homes or offices without it.

Well, just when you were becoming familiar with Wi-Fi, the technology is adapting. If you live in a big house or a flat with thick interior walls, or your working space is spread out over multiple stories, you may have experienced dead spots.

Enter Mesh Wi-Fi. Traditional Wi-Fi relies on a single router and if you were having connectivity issues, you might have invested in a Wi-Fi booster or Wi-Fi extender, but now you can reach far areas with the Wi-Fi Mesh system.

Mesh networks aren’t new. They’re already in use in some businesses and on military bases with their own isolated networks. But now you can also optimize home or office connectivity with Mesh Wi-Fi.

How Mesh Wi-Fi works

With Mesh Wi-Fi, you’ll place several smaller, connected devices around the house or office. Instead of having one central routing hub linking Wi-Fi signals via radio waves to the modem, you’ll have many access points (also known as satellites) capturing and rebroadcasting the routing signals you need for connectivity.

Benefits of Mesh Wi-Fi

Having ready access to a strong, reliable Wi-Fi signal wherever you are in your home or office is a good thing, but that’s not the only advantage of Mesh Wi-Fi. Other benefits include:
• Greater speed. With all access points broadcasting the same signal, you can cut the lag from having multiple, simultaneous connectivity requests.
• Better coverage. Typical Mesh Wi-Fi router devices claim to cover from 4,500 to 6,000 square feet.
• Ease of use. The typical Mesh router system is automated and provides a mobile app for easy management, even remotely.
• Integration with other Smart Home devices such as Alexa is often a feature.
• Parental controls are available with certain brands of these router systems.

Securing your Mesh Wi-Fi

Just as with traditional Wi-Fi, the security of your Mesh Wi-Fi will depend on your keeping your router devices safe. This means:
• changing the device’s administrative credentials and password from their default settings;
• setting up devices to automatically check for and install security patch updates;
• changing the network name to something unique, not something that immediately identifies the network as yours (e.g. if you live at 804 Water Road, don’t call your network 804 Water);
• setting up a guest Wi-Fi network allowing visitors to log on instead of providing every guest to your home with your access credentials.

You’ve read the Pro’s – what are the Negatives?

The main consideration is cost – as you can appreciate, multiple devices mean more expense.

Consider: How often do you have connectivity issues? How many Wi-Fi dead zones are you dealing with? What’s your budget? And do you really want several more devices strewn around your house? You might need only to set up your traditional router and modem more efficiently or use Powerline technology if you have enough power sockets.

The important thing is to find out which is the best technology for your circumstances.

Want to learn more about dealing with slow connectivity or dead spots in your home? Give us a call on 01455 209505. We can help you decide on the best Wi-Fi connectivity option for your needs.

Why Computer Repair Is Best Left to Experts

Professional Computer Repair is Better - here's why

When computers go wrong, people often turn to a friend or family member for help in the moment and we quite often hear customers say that they “know someone who knows about computers”. Think of it this way, though: driving a car doesn’t mean you can fix one. Having a lot of cars doesn’t show the owner knows what to do when one of those vehicles breaks down.

Computer repair is better left to experts.

Calling tech support (if that’s an option) can be time-consuming and frustrating, so people turn to the nearest teenager, cousin or friend with all the latest technological gadgets. But consider the investment you’ve made in your computer. Now, ask yourself: when was the last time I backed up? Please, say recently! If not, think about the value of the content you might lose if the computer is not handled with care.

When a computer expert sets out to investigate the problem, they do so with utmost caution. Before doing anything, they’ll know to at least ask if there is a backup of your data, so then, in identifying and solving the problem, they know what is safe to try. Importantly, they also know what actions to avoid.

The Price of Amateur Fixes

Your family/friend might turn to the internet for help. Sure, Google and YouTube will provide some answers, but context matters. Will your helpful friend know which answers are relevant to your situation or all the potential issues to consider? Trying different things can be dangerous if the approach isn’t suited to the problem.

Ask any computer repair expert. They’ll have stories to tell about computers “fixed” by well-meaning amateurs who made the problem worse. They may even have lost data along the way.

Why Professional repair is better

As with most jobs, computer experts draw upon specialized training and hands-on experience. They’re also up on the latest threats, technologies, and solutions. This helps them to diagnose the problem more quickly because they can go in and fix the problem right away, because they’ve seen it before or read about the problem.

Or perhaps they have colleagues who have done something like this before, or they’ve researched the technology to identify different options. Can your Aunt Sue or friend Frank say the same thing?

Someone doing you a favour?

Think of your typical answer when someone asks you for help. You’re human. You want to help, even if you don’t actually know that much about the problem. So, when you ask a family member, they’re likely to say, “sure.” Even when they should be saying, “I’m not sure how to fix that.”

When friends admit the repair is beyond them, you’ve already wasted time letting them take a crack at it. Worse, they may actually break your computer or lose important files. You have to go to the experts now for that new part or in the hope of retrieving the data. Meanwhile, you may be irritated towards the person who created the new problem.

Don’t jeopardize your relationships, and avoid doing more damage to your computer. Bypass the friend/family tech support solution and turn to the professionals first. Fixing a computer isn’t always simple. Get expert help to preserve as much data as you can, and avoid expensive replacements as long as possible.

Don’t trust just anyone with the health of your computer. Computer repair may look simple, but expert and experienced decision-making determines the best solution.

Have computer problems? We can help. Call us on 01455 209505.

Do Macs Get Viruses?

Do Macs get viruses?

Many Apple owners believe their Macintosh computers are immune to viruses. Apple itself has run ad campaigns promising its computers “don’t get viruses” and those who have owned a Mac for years, decades even, are particularly prone to believing. Regrettably, Macs do get viruses, and the threat is growing.

For a long time the argument was that cybercriminals didn’t bother to develop Mac viruses. There weren’t enough users to justify the effort. Instead, they’d focus on the lower hanging fruit – PCs running Windows.

Yet Apple’s market share is on the rise, and it’s increasingly common to see Macs in the workplace, especially in creative industries. Plus, there’s a widespread assumption that Mac users are likely to be better off. So, while Macs remain harder to infect (installing most software requires a password), there’s often a greater payoff.

The research reflects the reality. In 2017, for instance, the iPhone OS and Mac OS X placed #3 and #6 in CVE Details’ top 50 ranked by total number of distinct vulnerabilities. Apple TV and Safari also made the list at #17 and #18, respectively.

In 2017, Malwarebytes also reported it “saw more Mac malware in 2017 than in any previous year”. By the end of 2017, the cybersecurity firm had counted 270% more unique threats on the Mac platform than in 2016.

Finding Apple’s Weak Spots

It’s obvious then that the bad guys are no longer steering clear. They are actively looking for ways to exploit Macs.

A common approach is to use Trojans. Named after a gift wooden horse that hid an army, Trojans look like something you would want to install. So, Mac users happily enter their passwords to download that application and open the gates to the cybercriminal.

In 2011, for instance, a Trojan called “Mac Defender” took advantage of people’s desire to protect their computers. The fake program appeared to be anti-virus software. Once the users installed it, they’d get an onslaught of pop-up ads encouraging them to buy more fake software.

Trojans get through the gates because you let your guard down. You are taken in by that supposed note from a long-lost friend. You think you want to see that pic of that famous celebrity. All it takes to stop this type of attack is suspicion of everything you might install or download.

Everyone, particularly businesses would want to educate its people about the importance of:

• clicking on emails with care;
• validating the source of any files they plan to open;
• checking a website’s URL (being especially wary of those with less common endings such as .cc or .co);
• questioning any promises of Ray-Ban sunglasses for 90% off or the latest iPhone for $129.99!

The Mac App Store threat

A new threat comes from within the Mac App Store, according to Thomas Reed, a Mac security researcher. When a user tries to install an app on a Mac, a Mac OS program called Gatekeeper checks the file’s code signature. The signature helps certify the app is valid.

However, Reed found that cybercriminals could buy a legitimate certificate from Apple, or steal one and trick users. Users would install masked malware that could infect legitimate programs and evade detection, so it is vital not to let your guard down.

Bear in Mind

Apple is always working to protect its users from malware. It has measures in place and user caution can make a big difference, too. Still, it’s not true that Macs are completely safe and you should not fall into a false sense of security.

Find out what you can do to protect your Macs and guard against threats. Call us today on 01455 209505.

Useful Windows Shortcuts

Useful Windows shortcuts

There are a number of Windows shortcuts (combination of pressed keys) that are rarely used by many people, but which can help speed things up. Here are a few of the more commonly used ones.

Ctrl + X to Cut

Think about X marking the spot in the text where you want to cut words, an image, or a URL. Drag your cursor over the selection to highlight the particular text/table/image/file and press this key combination.

See ‘Paste’ below – that is what you use after this shortcut, so if you want to move the selection, this is your first step.

If you don’t want it at all, the cut function is another version of delete.

Ctrl + C to Copy

If you want to merely copy something, such as a piece of text, use this combination and then use ‘Paste’ below, to place it where you want.

If you want to copy everything, press Ctrl + A to select everything.

Ctrl + V to Paste

With this simple shortcut you can place the information you just cut (or copied using Ctrl + C) anywhere you want. The important thing to remember is that the paste function only holds one selection in memory. So, if you cut a phrase from one place, don’t get distracted by an image you want to copy or other text to cut.

Ctrl + Z to Undo

Windows users are able to undo their most recent action with this key combination. Whichever Windows program you’re in, you can use Ctrl + Z to reverse your last action.

(To redo something, go with Ctrl + Y.)

Alt then Tab to Switch Screens

There are many things you can do with Windows. Perhaps you’re multitasking: you have a PowerPoint open, as well as an Excel spreadsheet, and a web browser, too. By pressing Alt and then the Tab key, you can switch between tabs or screens.

If you hold down the Alt button while tapping Tab, you’ll scroll through all screens.

Ctrl + N to open a new window

Pressing Ctrl+N together opens up a new document file or browser window, depending on the program you’re in. It saves you a few drop-down menus and works in most Windows applications and Web browsers.

Ctrl + F to Find

Using the ‘Find’ shortcut calls up a pop-up box where you can enter text or numbers. You can use this shortcut to find what you’re looking for on a Web page, in a PDF document, or in your rough draft of a speech.

In fact, you’ll be able to see how many times your search text appears and toggle from one selection to the next.

Ctrl + Mouse to Zoom

Forget your reading glasses? Looking at a too-small infographic? Having a tough time locating the right tiny file on your desktop? You can zoom in with this shortcut. Using this shortcut on your desktop makes files and folders larger. In your browser, this function zooms in on the page.

Want to know more about Windows and technology to streamline processes? We can help you find the right computer solutions for your home or office. Contact us on 01455 209505.

Looking After Your External Hard Drive

Looking after External Hard Drives

Despite its many advantages, many people still do not use ‘Cloud’ storage as they prefer to use external hard drives that they keep in their home or office. External hard drives free up storage, offer portability, and provide a lifeline in case of computer disaster.

If you are still using external hard drives, it pays to take good care of these compact, convenient devices. Here are some helpful tips.

Don’t knock the drive.

Depending on the type of drive you have, impact could damage it. The hard drive’s mechanical drives work a little like a record player – a bit like spinning platter and a needle arm reading it.

Note, you don’t have to worry about this with a Solid State Drive (SSD) as there are no moving parts.

Don’t pull.

You can damage the drive port with a hard or sideways yank on its USB plug. Remove the device cable with a gentle pull on the plug itself (after ejecting it first).

Then, when you are reconnecting the external drive, inspect the connector before plugging the cable back in. Look for any damage, debris, or corrosion to help maximize the device’s lifespan.

Don’t skip steps.

You may be in a hurry, but always take the time to remove the hard drive from your desktop before physically unplugging it. On Windows, you’ll usually right click on the drive and press Eject. For Macs, you can drag the drive icon to the recycle bin (which changes to an eject button).

Never unplug the drive while moving data to or from the hard drive unless you want to risk data corruption.

Don’t suffocate the drive.

Ever put your hand on the hard drive after prolonged use? It’s hot. Don’t immediately store it away in a bag or tight space. Give it some time to cool off first.

When it’s out, and in use, keep the drive’s vents clear of other objects so that it has some airflow. Set it on a flat, level surface. Avoid placing it on paper, towels, or other cloth items that could add to its heat levels.

Condensation.

Condensation is an enemy to your hard drive. Hard drive failures can be caused by environmental factors such as temperature and air quality too.

Don’t expect immortality or invincibility.

A hard drive isn’t going to last forever. They can also get lost or stolen. Don’t let one external hard drive be the only place you are backing up your data.

If you want to guarantee that your data is safe, have a backup on your computer, on the drive, and if possible, a copy in the Cloud.

If you need help deciding on the best hard drive for your needs, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Managing Your Email Better

Managing Your Email

A staggering 269 billion emails are sent every day. In fact, the typical business employee in 2018 received 90 emails (excluding those pesky spam emails of course), and sent out 40 – and each year the figure goes higher.

Email is a powerful tool but it can easily get out of hand. Here are five strategies for better email management.

Don’t start your day with email.

Many people do, it’s how they set up for the day. However beginning the day with a cup of coffee and clicking through your Inbox, can backfire. Many of those emails become items on your to-do list. You can put off important tasks from your day responding to other people’s requests.

Try to plan your day around your needs first. Even do some of the more important tasks, before diving into that Inbox!

Think twice about checking email constantly.

It’s tempting to open emails as soon as they arrive, but aim to tackle your Inbox when you have the time to take action. If you open an email planning to get back to it later, you’ll likely forget. When you have to revisit an email to remind yourself what it’s about, you’re doubling the time you spend on that message.

Avoid interrupting your momentum by turning off email alert notifications and phone badges. Instead, try to set regular times to read and respond to accumulated emails.

Write clear, concise emails.

Avoid contributing to someone else’s Inbox chaos by providing as much relevant information as possible. Now, that doesn’t mean writing a War and Peace-length email – just focus your message for your audience, anticipate questions, and answer in that email.

Starting the message with an informative subject line can make a big difference too, rather than a generic one, e.g. instead of having a subject line saying “Update” and then going into your email, say what the Update is about, so that the person at the other end knows what it is and when to open it.

Save time with reusable messages.

You often end up answering the same questions over and again. Create templated emails that you can have at the ready to provide relevant details. Depending on your email software, this capability may be built in or you may need to add a plug-in.

Use filters and folders to sort email.

Learn how to use automatically filter your messages into the appropriate folders. For example, if the email is from accounting@yourbusiness.com then send it to your “Accounting” folder. This can save hundreds of hours a year. The better your folder system, the less time you’ll spend looking for specific emails the you need them.

In Outlook, you can also set up a filter to change the colour of email for different senders. Your boss could be red, and you’d know to handle that one first. Also save time by setting up strong filters for junk and spam.

Unsubscribe from mailing lists that you don’t need any longer, although be careful here that you are unsubscribing from emails that you actually subscribed to in the first place! Some spammers send emails with ‘unsubcribe’ links, but if you click on that link, you are merely confirming to them that you have a valid and active email address for further spam.

Cleaning out the clutter can make your Inbox much less overwhelming.

Email is an essential tool today, especially in business. Don’t let it become a drain on your energy and attention. Make the most of the time you spend in your Inbox with smart strategies for email management.

Need help selecting the right email or setting up useful mailbox management tools? Give us a call on 01455 209505.

5 Ways to Extend Your Phone’s Battery

Tips to Extend your Phone Battery Life

Today’s phones can help us do more than ever before. In addition to making phone calls, we use them to send messages, post photos on our favourite apps, watch videos, play games, and endless other activities. Since our phones can accomplish so much, we’re on them often – which means we’re draining a lot of phone battery.

In our busy lives, we aren’t always near an outlet and don’t always have a phone charger ready. So what strategies can we use to extend our battery life?

Check Apps’ Battery Usage

When it comes to battery usage, not all apps are created equal. While checking your email uses a small amount of power, any apps that use GPS drain a significant amount of your phone’s battery. This is because they are constantly talking to the GPS satellites. Check your settings to see which of your apps are draining your battery most and limit usage to the ones you need.

Turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth if possible

If you aren’t on your personal Wi-Fi, it’s good to turn both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth off (if possible) when you aren’t using them. They drain a large amount of data because, even when not connected to anything, they are searching for and communicating with your home’s Wi-Fi and car’s Bluetooth. That’s how they auto-connect when you are back within their range.

Many people use Bluetooth for smart watches, Fitbits etc. but downloading podcasts, videos, and audiobooks at home can save your battery when you’re out because you won’t have to stream these items over Wi-Fi.

Lower your Phone’s Brightness

One of the easiest ways to save battery is to reduce how bright your phone’s screen is. The brighter your screen is, the more battery life it is using up. Most phones adjust the brightness levels based on how light your surroundings are. You can override this and turn the level down to save battery. The more you dim it, the longer your battery will last.

Go on Power Saving Mode

When you put your phone in Power Saving Mode, it stops it from automatically checking to see if there are new emails, powers off your display faster, and reduces screen brightness. It also turns off certain visual effects and some other features that take a lot of battery. On some phones, it also makes your apps run a little slower.

Buy a Built-in Battery Case

Some people need to use very power-draining features often and have phone-heavy lifestyles. If this is you, it may still be a struggle to keep your battery up throughout the day. If all of the other options aren’t sufficient, you can buy a phone case with a built-in battery. By simply being in its case, your phone will charge. No need for an outlet or charger. These cases help you be able to keep your phone fully functional and able to use any apps you need.

While any of these methods will help you extend your phone’s battery, it’s best to combine a few options. Our phones make our lives much easier, but they can’t do anything for us if they’re dead because we let the battery run out. Even more importantly, we want our phones usable in case of emergency.

Luckily, using these methods will help keep our batteries alive throughout the day. Just remember to charge them again at home.

Are you in need of our services? Call us now on 01455 209505.

What is the Best Way to Backup?

What is the best way to Backup?

“That will never happen to me”. We get through our lives telling ourselves the worst won’t happen to us, but we have seen the impact when customers call us in after losing their important data – such as photos and documents. So, what’s the best way to backup?

Approaches to Backup

There are several off-the-shelf backup options you can use. Let’s consider the pros and cons of the most popular ones.

USB Thumb Drives

Also known as “flash drives,” “pen drives,” or “memory sticks,” these thumb-sized devices are compact and portable. But, they have size limitations compared to hard drives. Also, the mobility makes them easy to lose (which can actually set the disaster scenario in motion).

Additionally, a USB thumb drive is robust when not plugged in, but more vulnerable when attached. If someone inadvertently snaps the drive or employs too much force, they can put the data on that backup at risk. Also, as with all electronic devices, they can sometimes fail.

The cheap ones also tend to be slow, which can make backing up sluggish.

USB Hard Drives

Portable hard drives increase the data storage available, often at a decent price. They are designed to be compact and mobile. You can prioritize durability, processing speed, storage volumes and more.

Hard drives are less likely to get damaged than a thumb drive. If knocked or jostled, the cables are flexible. Still, a hard drive can also be prone to physical failure. Selecting an external solid state drive (SSD) can help since it has no moving parts. Information is stored instead in microchips.

Cloud Storage

Backing up to the cloud stores data on an external, secure server. If thieves take your computers and USB backup, you can still access your data on the cloud. Cloud storage providers build in redundancy (multiple copies) to ensure your backup remains safe.

Most cloud storage services back up to secure centres with thousands of servers storing data. They’ll have their own server backups too, just in case they’re the ones hit by a disaster. The providers also encrypt data during transit to further ensure compliance and security.

Migrating to a third-party cloud storage service also cuts the clutter at your home or office. You can count on expert help to ensure security and compliance, plus, you can cut operational costs by offloading in-house storage or external hard drive expenses.

What’s the Best Answer?

Don’t think disaster won’t strike. Research has found data loss and downtime are most often caused by:

• Hardware failures (45% of total unplanned downtime)
• Loss of power (35%)
• Software failure (34%)
• Data corruption (24%)
• External security breaches (23%)
• Accidental user error (20%).

We recommend the 3-2-1 backup strategy. This means having 3 copies of your data. Two (2) of these would be located on different devices (e.g. on your computer and on a backup drive). The other remaining backup copy (1) would be secured offsite, in the cloud.

Want to secure your data for the worst? Give us a call on 01455 209505.