Archive for Home users – Page 3

Too Many Passwords? Try a Password Manager

Keep your computer secure from scammers

One of the regular things we see is customers struggling with the number of passwords they need to remember – so many login details are needed these days. As we have advised previously, it is not a good idea to have just one password for everything so how can you keep track of all of them?

You can try using a Password Manager – this is a program or browser extension that allows you to store passwords in an encrypted form on your device, but also do much more. The bonus is that all you need is one Master password to manage it.

The passwords are saved in an encrypted password ‘vault’ and when you go to a specific website, the Password Manager inputs the password for you. Whilst many browsers already do this for you, a Password Manager does it in a more secure way.

Some Password Managers advise you as to how secure your passwords are – preferably using a mixture of letters, numbers, capitals and special characters. Some can automatically change passwords for you and as well as set up two-factor authentication – this is where you can open the password vault with your Master password, but you also use some form of verification (such as getting a code texted to your phone), which you type in to prove that you are authorised to access those important password details.

The main point is that you would not need to remember large numbers of passwords, which means that you can easily keep your online accounts as secure as possible.

There are a many Password Managers – here is a selection of the best known ones: –

LastPass

This is one of the original Password Managers and installs a browser extension or mobile app. With one master password you can access the password vault and manage passwords for all websites that you log into. It can even generate secure passwords for you.

At the moment the browser extension is free to use and more services are available in the premium version.

True Key

Intel has produced a Password Manager that is free to use for 15 passwords, which is enough for many people, and also a premium version which allows more and extra services. As well as the usual encrypted password facility, it allows multiple ways to access the password vault – master password, second device, email or even facial recognition.

Dashlane

As well as storing your passwords securely, this product helps you by providing a rating of your password security strength. The premium version also allows synching across multiple devices as well as two-factor authentication.

These are just three of the many Password Managers out there but whatever one you choose, do make sure that it is from a reputable company. If using a search engine, take particular care checking the website address the download is coming from as it needs to come from the company itself and not an address that is only similar.

Also you need to remember that whilst Password Managers help you keep track of your password security, you still need to maintain effective security software and keep a cautious eye on what you download from the internet.

If you would like help with password security, call us on 01455 209505.

NHS Cyber Attack – how to build up your protection

Malware terms

Here is some more information about the NHS cyber-attack that started on Friday.

The Ransomware variant is called WanCrypt0r and 81,000 infections were reported in the first 12 hours. It has not only targeted the NHS but has also gone for Banks, Telecoms and Utilities worldwide.

It has been established that the criminals are exploiting a known vulnerability in Windows (MS17-010)  which has already been patched, but those computers which do not have up to date Windows Updates are still vulnerable.

We have warned customers before about the Ransomware threat and the extent of this attack means that we should all consider increasing our defences, especially businesses but also homes, as Ransomware can be spread via emails.

As there is no way to guarantee 100% protection against threats, we have to make it as difficult as possible for the threat to take hold and how much you decide to do depends on the level of risk you wish to take.

1. Ensure that Windows Updates is kept up to date

Windows Updates contain security fixes (amongst other things) and computers that have not been kept up to date are vulnerable, as in the case in this attack. Admittedly Windows 10 gives you little choice when it comes to Updates (you have to have them) but if you are using any previous version of Windows – make sure that Updates are kept up to date.

If you are still using Windows XP or Vista, you shouldn’t be. These versions of Windows no longer get Windows Updates.

Update:
Microsoft have now issued a patch for XP and Vista. Go to this web page to download the patch if you are still using XP and Vista (demand is high so it may take more than one try). Please note – this patches this vulnerability only so you should still move away from these unsupported operating systems.

2. Make sure that you have a good antivirus product that is kept up to date

Good security products give a better degree of protection but they have to be kept up to date, with active subscriptions. Free antivirus is better than nothing but does not give protection that is as comprehensive as paid versions.

3.    Install extra protection.

Usually, you should not have more than one security product installed on your computer at any one time, but there is a product called Malwarebytes, which can be installed as well as your existing antivirus. This increases your protection especially from Ransomware, if you install the premium version.

4.    Consider your backup situation

If a computer is infected, the virus goes across a network and it is possible that any connected storage will also get infected – this includes cloud storage such as Dropbox. Having said that, Dropbox state that within 30 days of the event they can restore your files (here) and you can subscribe to extend the 30 days to 1 year if you choose. If you are using any other Cloud storage, check with them to see if they have a similar service.

It is vital that your important files are backed up and a copy kept separate from your computer. In the event of an infection, you can at least relax a little that your important data has not been encrypted.

5.    Consider downtime – system backups

When a computer has Ransomware, if you have backups of important files you will not need to pay the criminals. It is likely that the computer will need to be wiped clean and Windows reinstalled, which takes time.

There is software available that can take a copy of your whole computer, which could be used to reinstall the whole system in much less time than a full reinstall. A copy once every 2 or 3 months would allow you to get back up and running in much less time.

As mentioned earlier, many viruses are spread through emails, so never click on links in emails and do not open attachments unless you know that they are genuine emails – if in doubt call the sender.

If you would like help with any of the above, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Mac Computers and Viruses – Truth versus Myth

Compromised app containing a virus

We have lost count of the number of times that we’ve heard the phrase “Macs don’t get viruses” or “I’ve never had protection on my Mac”. Whilst this may have been true in the past it isn’t as cut and dried today and the Mac OSX operating system actually can be vulnerable, so protection is worth seriously considering especially in a work or business situation.

More difficult to exploit

The Mac is based on the UNIX operating system (as is Linux) which is more difficult to exploit as it is built on a sandbox-type principle, where malicious code cannot usually get as far as it might get in a non-UNIX based system.  Also, Apple has built in a certain degree of malware prevention in the Mac, for example their ‘Gatekeeper’ software actually blocks apps that have been downloaded from the internet (i.e. anywhere other than the Apple Store) that do not have a Developer ID supplied by Apple certifying that they are safe to use.

Unfortunately, in spite of this robustness the Mac is now becoming a victim of its own success because its increasing popularity means that cybercriminals are paying more attention to it – and finding ways of making money from you even if you are a Mac user. It’s not just that popularity – Macs are usually much more expensive to buy, so the cybercriminals may believe that Mac users are attractive targets.

Not impossible to exploit

For example, a popular Mac DVD-ripping and Video Conversion app called ‘Handbrake’ was recently compromised, by criminals hacking the software company download server and inserting malicious code into the app download. When this download was installed on a Mac, it also installed a ‘backdoor’ (a means of bypassing security). The user then was asked for their administrator password, which was passed over the internet in plain text so that the criminals could access any part of the system from that point.

By successfully avoiding having to use the ‘direct attack’ approach, this allowed important information such as password keychains and browser data to be extracted and passed to the crooks.

This compromise has now been corrected and the infected code was from a download between 2nd and 6th May 2017. If you have installed Handbrake version 1.0.7, check the SHA1 checksum of the file by opening a Terminal, typing in shasum and dragging the installation file into the Terminal Window.

If the checksum is 0935a43ca90c6c419a49e4f8f1d75e68cd70b274 then the file is malicious.

To disinfect it remove the Launch Agent plist file fr.handbrake.activity_agent.plist, and the activity_agent.app file located in ~/Library/RenderFiles/. Reboot then change your passwords.

In the past year or so a Ransomware-type malware was discovered for the Mac, so this isn’t the first time that there has been a potential issue.

Even though the Mac is more robust and secure than its main competitor, it is by no means invulnerable to malicious code and it is a risk to think otherwise. You may feel that the risk is small enough to continue to use your Mac as you always have, but at least consider the pros and cons first – as well as being very careful about where you get your apps from.

If you would like help in securing your Mac, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Helping to Control Spam in your Email

Getting rid of Spam in your Inbox

‘Spam’ emails get into everyone’s email Inbox and are a fact of life these days. Whether its “Russian Brides” or something else, Spam emails are annoying, especially if you regularly get a large number every day. It is not surprising that there is so much, as current estimates put Spam between 60%-80% of global email, depending on which report you read.

What many people do not realise, is that a lot of Spam emails are caught by your email company and discarded before you even get to see them – although some email companies filter out Spam much better than others do.

Having said that, there are ways to help reduce the number of Spam emails that you get – here are a few of them: –

Mark as Spam before doing anything

This is the most important thing. More often than not, we see that customers tend to delete the Spam emails, then carry on reading their ‘proper’ emails as normal – all this does is just delete it, so it doesn’t help you the next time they send an email from that address.

What you need to do is to mark the email as Spam, before deleting it. This tells your email company or email program what to do if this email address sends another email – that is get rid of it before you get it.

Email using Webmail

If you are using Webmail (getting your email through the email company website), mark the Spam email (usually on the left-hand side) and click on the Spam button, which may be marked as ‘Report’, ‘Spam’ or something similar. This identifies the email as Spam and tells the email company that you don’t want any more emails from that email address. The email company should automatically send any more emails from the same address, straight into the ‘Junk’ folder instead of your Inbox.

Email using an Email Program or App

Many email programs include a facility to mark an email as Spam. For example, if using Outlook, right-click the email(s) and select ‘Junk’. You will get options as to what to do, e.g. selecting ‘Block Sender’ (blocking just the email address) or ‘Block Senders Domain’ which will block all emails from the name after the ‘@’ symbol. Note that Outlook diverts emails into the Junk folder – they will still be coming from the email company.

Most email programs will have a similar method of diverting spam that has been received.

Many (non-free) security software programs include an anti-Spam facility, whether it blocks an email that it knows is spam using its own built-in spam filters, or “training” the program by marking the Spam emails and it blocks them for you in the future, in a similar way as above.

Businesses – hardware and online filtering

If you are a business with a business-class firewall, a Spam filtering facility can be included in the appliance, depending on the hardware device chosen, so speak to your I.T. person about this.

There are also ‘Cloud’ solutions that can route emails from your email company through the Cloud filters before you even get them – there are many solutions to choose from.

Third Party Anti-Spam programs

There are a large number of ‘Anti-Spam’ programs which say that they help in blocking and removing Spam – they are essentially adding another filtering layer for your Inbox. Having said that, you do need to check for compatibility with your email program or app, so research is essential, especially as some of these programs are more reliable than others..

As with all things, make sure that you have regular backups, in case the worst happens, but if you do nothing else make sure that you mark your emails as Spam, before getting rid of them.

If you would like help in battling Spam in your Inbox, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Microsoft Says Don’t Download Windows 10 Creators Update Yet

Windows 10 logo

Microsoft has advised users NOT to manually download the latest update to Windows 10 – called the Creators Update – but wait for it to be downloaded in the normal automatic update rollout instead.

Despite the massive publicity surrounding the latest Update release, they are finding issues with it particularly with older machines, such as some components no longer working after the Update has installed. This is why they are automatically updating newer machines first and hoping to identify and iron out bugs before the older systems get it during the normal course of events.

Even though Microsoft are deliberately rolling out the Update slowly, users can download the Creators Update themselves so Microsoft are worried that the issues that they have found will result in normal (e.g. non-geek) users having difficulties should they install the Creators Update before Microsoft want them to.

The Creators Update is the equivalent of an operating system upgrade (Windows 10.2 if you will) and it is a major undertaking even without the threat of parts of your machine not working afterwards. Certainly many of us in the I.T. world remember the problems caused by the last big Windows 10 update (the so-called ‘Anniversary Update’ last year) and even though we have learnt the hard way not to jump into the next ‘latest and greatest’ straight away (there are always bugs to be ironed out) it is surprising that they have asked users to stop manual updating so soon after release, so there must be further bugs that they are dealing with.

On the positive side at least Microsoft are warning people and not just releasing code that they know will cause problems to many people, although it is still a pity that testing didn’t show these issues before the Update was released to the public.

It also doesn’t help when you consider that Home and Small Business customers are effectively testing the Update before Enterprise customers get it, as it will not be released to the Enterprise sector for months – until the bugs have been ironed out.

If you have installed the Creators Update already, there is a way to uninstall it until it is more stable, although be aware that some apps/programs may be uninstalled in the process.Of course, as always, you should take a backup of your important files first just in case.

Go to Start > Settings and click ‘Update and Security’. Click on ‘Recovery’ > ‘Go back to an Earlier Build’ or depending on how long ago it was, click on ‘Go back to the previous version of Windows 10’.

If you are experiencing problems with Windows Update, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Controlling Windows 10 Autoplay Settings

Autoplay settings in Windows 10

‘Autoplay’ in Windows was originally designed to automatically open removable media that you have plugged into your computer, such as CD/DVD or USB media – it was meant to speed things up for you, but it has had a checkered history.

In the old days, putting in a CD/DVD or USB media with Autoplay switched on was a good way of passing viruses from one computer to another, as viruses were automatically executed when the media was opened for you. This is why good security programs today either automatically scan removable media when inserted, or ask you to allow it to do so, but some programs are better than others and some may not stop a virus from executing itself in time.

Later versions of Windows switched Autoplay off by default and Windows 10 asks you what you want to do, when removable media is inserted. However we do see customers that switch it back on, for ease of use but this does pose a risk.

Even today, it is recommended that Autoplay is switched off. You can do this by going to Settings > Devices and select ‘Autoplay’ on the list on the left. Toggle the Autoplay switch to ‘Off’, Autoplay will be disabled and you will not see the pop-up window again. This allows you or your security software to scan the removable media before opening.

Alternatively, or you just find that annoying, the next safest thing is set Autoplay to ask you what to do every time media is inserted, rather than automatically opening it. In Windows 10 you can actually select different actions for different media, for example you can set memory cards to import photos from your camera (which is unlikely to be infected). The settings for this are in the same section as described above, and you go to the ‘Choose a default’ for each media showing in the list.

There is also even greater control of individual media by going to the ‘Autoplay’ setting in Control Panel, where you can choose a default for many more options such as Pictures, Video, Audio etc. that may be present on your removable media.

Rather than just automatically opening media, the final thing that you can do is to set Autoplay to open the media in File Explorer – but as some viruses reside in an area of removable media that is read when opening its file list, this is not that much better than automatic opening. We would recommend scanning all removable media before opening it in File Explorer.

Every day people are using the same USB drive in their home and office/business computers, or putting removable media into their computers that has been used in a friend or relative’s system. This means that the weakest point is the danger point for compromising the security of your computer – so the friend/relative that may not have a good security program, or a compromised office computer are routes to computer infection.

The last thing you want is to have your computer disinfected, so it pays to reduce the risk where possible.

If you would like help in securing your computer or believe that your computer may be infected, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Beware – the fake TalkTalk Scam is Still Going Strong

Keep your computer secure from scammers

A couple of years ago, TalkTalk made the news after admitting that they had been hacked and large amounts of customer private data had been accessed illegally. At that time there were a number of scammers pretending to be from TalkTalk, phoning people trying to get remote access to their computer by saying that they were infected or their emails had been hacked.

The idea was to convince people into paying them a lot of money, by accessing their computers to either create a problem (to pretend to fix), to syphon details to be used later in ID and bank fraud or just to scare the customer.

Scammers are back

We are now seeing an increasing number of cases where scammers are using the TalkTalk excuse but are even more believable, by giving information that a customer would assume could only be from TalkTalk. For example, customers who have had problems with their emails and who have contacted TalkTalk about it, who have then got a call from the scammers.

Even if these calls are just a coincidence, and that the contact information they are currently using is from the original hack, we strongly suggest that all TalkTalk customers be extra vigilant anyway as these people are very believable and make a lot of money doing this. This also applies to ANY other company that calls you out of the blue, as TalkTalk is not the only company name misused by scammers in this way.

Remember that TalkTalk would never call you to ask for passwords, or contact you out of the blue to ask to remotely access your computer for some reason. Also, they could not tell if your computer is infected or not without examining it, so they would not call you to tell you that it was.

What to do if they call

If you do get a call from someone saying that they are from TalkTalk (or other company), no matter how believable, do not let them access your computer. Go to the genuine company website, get contact details and call them, to make sure that the person you are talking to is genuine.

Also, remember that remote connections can be used legitimately too and you should not be put off using it – just be especially careful who you allow to connect remotely to your computer and you should be ok.

If you think that you may have already been scammed or just want help, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Is Anti-Virus Enough These Days?

Is Anti-virus protection enough these days?

Not too long ago, everyone was warned about computer viruses and ‘Anti-Virus’ became the in-word when it came to computers, because the last thing you wanted was for someone to cause damage using a virus program.

Since then, criminals have jumped on board the malicious software scene and big money can be obtained from data – especially yours.

Increasingly the media are telling us that there are more threats than basic viruses now, things like ‘Ransomware’ (a malicious program which encrypts your files so that you cannot access them again without payment), software aimed at stealing your credit card and identity data, telephone scams using remote software, plus others.

Protection – what can you do?

Clearly, if you want to go on the internet you do need anti-virus protection but unfortunately, protection from free programs is not enough these days. Yes they are definitely better than nothing, but you have to ask yourself if big corporations such as Yahoo and TalkTalk can get hacked, maybe minimal protection compared to paid-for protection, is not the way to go.

A good paid-for security suite is the minimum these days and even then, you have to be careful about what websites you visit, emails you open and what you download.

The One Anti-Virus Rule

Traditionally, the rule has been that you must only have one anti-virus program running at any one time on your computer. To have two anti-virus programs was definitely not recommended, as they compete with each other and at the very least slowed your computer to a crawl, if not actually corrupting your data. We have come across many computer systems with two or more anti-virus programs which have caused problems. That was up till now.

There is now a product called Malwarebytes, which has been designed to actually run alongside your traditional anti-virus program, without causing the problems as before. It compliments your current protection by looking for the ransomware / malware-type of threat and assists in the protection of your system by concentrating on the non-traditional danger to your computer, without causing problems having two protection programs.

As it is a paid-for product it runs in real time, bolstering the protection of your system. As the threats particularly of Ransomware are becoming a problem, especially for businesses, it is recommended to seriously think about adding to the scope of your protection.

Ultimately, no protection system is guaranteed 100% effective as they are always catching up with the “bad guys”, but it is worth considering whether or not one protection program is enough these days, bearing in mind online banking and other day-to-day internet use that involves sensitive personal and financial information.

If you do decide to go down the additional protection route, we can supply Malwarebytes at below retail prices, so if interested give us a call on 01455 209505.

5 Ways to Extend the Life of your Laptop

Entend your laptops life

Laptop computers are one of the most fragile pieces of tech you’ll ever buy, but they also receive the roughest treatment. From the sensitive flat screen inside the lid to the spinning hard drive, there are components inside your laptop that do not take too kindly to excess vibration or pressure.

Extend your laptop’s life with these five easy tips.

Avoid sharp movements during use:

While some newer laptops have an SSD drive with no moving parts, many laptops still have mechanical drives which work a bit like a record player. Mechanical hard drives have multiple heads like a record player needle (although they do not actually touch anything) and data storage disk-shaped platters, like a record.

The head hovers just microns over the surface of the spinning disk reading the data from it and a knock can cause them to collide. Just like a deep scratch on a record, whatever data was on that section can be corrupted and lost, so movement should be kept to a minimum.

Make sure you always power down the laptop before moving it or packing it away. Whilst many modern laptops have anti-vibration technology which stops the hard drive heads when movement is detected, this cannot protect against sudden movement or continually placing the laptop on a hard surface, causing vibration.

Keep it cool:

Your laptop has 2 ways of telling you when it’s too hot – the fan and auto-shut off. Each component in your laptop is generating heat, and the harder it’s working, the more heat each component creates. The fan runs to blow that heat out of the vent and keep the components cool enough to continue operating.

Because there’s no clear temperature indicator, your fan volume is the best guide to monitoring laptop heat. While the laptop is working hard (and getting hot), the fan will spin faster and louder. It’s not uncommon for it to sound like a hair dryer at times! Help it out by keeping your fan vent clear of books, blankets, and other blockages.

Modern laptops should automatically power down if they get too hot but you shouldn’t let it get to that stage, as excess heat over a prolonged period can cause internal damage or a reduction in the laptop’s working life.

Respect the power cords:

Inside those robust looking power cords are a bunch of delicate wires, begging you to be gentle. You’d think they should be able to take a beating, get bent, twisted and run over with chair wheels, but unfortunately not. Keep cords clear of sharp or flat-edged items, and when wrapping for transport try to mimic how it came out of the box. Wrap the cord gently around itself or the power adapter and secure with Velcro or similar.

If your original power cable no longer works, be careful when buying a replacement adapter if it is not a manufacturers model, which can be expensive. Universal adapters are freely available with multiple removable heads that can fit various makes of laptop, but getting the correct fitting isn’t the only important thing – it’s the voltage.

If you turn your laptop upside down, there is usually a label on the underside (or sometimes under the battery) which indicates the correct voltage for the laptop. Some universal adapters can go above the common 18.5 / 19 volts and if they do, it can cause damage to your laptop. Double check the voltage needed and check the universal adapter voltage setting before powering it up.

Carry it padded:

Look for a bag that not only fits your laptop but also provides padding. If it is shut down, your system will endure countless bumps and bangs as the bag is moved around, even with careful use. Ideally your bag should have side, bottom, AND top padding, as well as a waterproof outer. If backpacks aren’t your style, look for padded or hard-shelled sleeves.

Back it up:

Laptops give us fantastic mobility but as mentioned above some parts are quite fragile. While a backup won’t make your laptop components last longer, it will make minor repairs that much easier. You’re more likely to take it in for a service if your data is accessible elsewhere, and of course, in the event of accident or theft, you’re fully prepared.

Consider an off-site backup for additional protection, so no matter what happens with your laptop you still have your important files.

Call us at 01455 209505 to give your laptop a life-extending service.

Making Computer Issues a Thing of the Past

Managed services

We repair many computers and laptops each week, but unfortunately this is often ‘closing the barn door after the horse has bolted’. Computers have a habit of dying at the worst possible time – like when an important project is due tomorrow, or before you copy family photos to a backup.

We’ve combined our repair services with preventative measures aimed at preventing this happening to you. Our managed IT services are called ‘Proactive Care’ and can remotely take care of all the computers in your house or office, helping to protect you against both threats and system failure.

Here are a few things that form part of the protection package.

Anti-virus always up-to-date:

While many computers have anti-virus software installed, they don’t often have the latest virus and threat definitions. These systems are at risk every minute they spend online, as the anti-virus simply will not pick up and stop an unknown threat if it doesn’t have an up to date list of things to look for and these lists are updated many times a day.

‘Proactive Care’ makes sure that your anti-virus definitions are always up-to-date, keeping your computer secure against even the newest viruses.

Software patches:

Hackers like to spend their time figuring out new ways to break into computer systems. Software companies like Microsoft and Apple release regular patches to close these security holes. The patches are supposed to be applied automatically, but we often find that isn’t the case – patches didn’t download, were cancelled or produced an error.

Our services involve remotely checking that each patch has been applied successfully, and troubleshooting if required. As an added advantage, any time new features are packaged into an update, you’ll find them already installed for you.

Early failure detection:

Some parts in your computer send out alarm bells when they’re about to die.

Unfortunately, they’re not literal alarm bells (that would be too convenient), but rather information in the background that needs to be interpreted or manually checked. We can monitor these and advise if repairs are required.

For example, hard drives which store your information do eventually wear out, but they’re one of the parts that send out early failure warnings (unless the fault is a catastrophic one). We can monitor this and give you ample warning so that you have time to back up your important files. When it’s time, we’ll work with you to arrange drive replacement, making sure to either clone or re-install your operating system, whichever suits your needs best.

Tune-ups:

Even the most cared for computer will slow down over time. Hard drives become cluttered, operating systems corrupt and ghosts of uninstalled programs still remain. We can remotely schedule and run a regular maintenance routine that will keep your system running in good condition.

Our managed Proactive Care service happens entirely behind the scenes, so there is no disruption to your experience. You simply enjoy the benefits of having your own IT specialist team at one flat, low cost.

Start with managed IT services today – for more information give us a call on 01455 209505 or visit our Managed Services page.