Archive for Information Security

Spectre and Meltdown – What They Mean for You

Modern computers contain processors (CPUs) which do the heavy calculations that make your device work – the better the CPU, the faster your device. These computer chips are used in devices made by computer manufacturers all over the world, as well as Microsoft, Apple, Google and are in servers everywhere.

‘Spectre’ and ‘Meltdown’

Severe design flaws were recently discovered in CPUs, and these vulnerabilities were called ‘Spectre’ and ‘Meltdown’. Essentially these vulnerabilities can allow hackers to take advantage of the fact that whilst it is not being fully used, modern CPUs can do something called ‘speculative execution’. This is a techy way of saying that they take notice of what tasks you do often, and try to do those tasks for you in the background and store the data for you, so that it is quicker for you then next time you choose to do that task.

It’s a bit like going to the same coffee shop every day and one day you find that they have your cup ready for you. Except in this case instead of coffee its data – at times very important data – and that’s the problem. This data is held in something called a ‘cache’ and just sits there until it is told to clear itself.

The ‘Spectre’ vulnerability allows attackers to trick the processor into performing these speculative operations and ‘Meltdown’ can collect the data that is created. To date there have been no reports of attacks but as this has been known in the IT community for a while it is only a matter of time, especially given the fact that these vulnerabilities exist in CPUs made over very many years – so there are plenty of them to attack.

It is serious enough that CPU makers and makers of Operating Systems are rushing to get security fixes out to users. Intel are issuing updates for their processors to fix the vulnerability and AMD are working on a patch. Microsoft have issued updates for Windows 7, 8.1 and 10, with Apple have released updates for iOS11.2, MacOS 10.13.2 and tvOS 11.2. Google, Amazon etc. are also looking at the issue.

What does it actually mean for you?

The fixes that are being issued make changes to the way CPUs speed up your work – in effect the fixes are putting the brakes on the CPU to an extent and potentially reducing its performance. Some people may see a minimal impact but some may see a significant slowdown in the performance of their device after the fixes have been applied.

At the present time, it is believed that Windows 10 with newer CPUs will see a negligible impact but with older CPUs there may be a noticeable decrease in performance. Most noticeable decrease in performance are Windows 7 and 8 machines with older CPUs and according to Microsoft, fixes for Windows Servers will have a “significant impact” on performance after the updates.

It may be that over time, these updates may be refined and the impact may be reduced, but for the time being if you see a marked decrease in the performance of your device, it may well be that fixes for CPU flaws are causing it or contributing to it.

Whilst it may be unwelcome news, it is vital that you do keep all your updates current, no matter what device you are using.

If you would like help please call us on 01455 209505.

Backup up the Right Way for Businesses

The 31st of March is World Backup day and it’s a great time to put a backup in place. Businesses are losing large amounts of data every day, purely because ‘backing up’ is stuck at the bottom of their to-do list.

But how? What’s the easiest, most effective way for your business to backup?

You’ve probably heard of file backup by a number of names: Cloud Sync, Cloud Backup or Cloud Storage. They’re all similar enough to be confusing and meaningless enough to be anything, so here’s what they mean and which one you need today.

Cloud Sync

Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, etc. are services that sync up with a single folder on your computer. They mirror it. When a file changes in one, the sync service rushes to change it on your computer too, so they are always the same. Cloud Sync services are hugely flexible for remote employees, or even those squeezing in a few quick tasks while riding the train to work.

They’re easy to use, require no training, and the free tiers are enough for most individuals. Accidentally deleting a file means it disappears from the Cloud Sync drive – almost immediately – and overwriting a file does the same thing, so if an employee makes edits to the wrong file, then those edits take place. Having said that, if disaster strikes and the wrong file is overwritten or deleted, or your local copy becomes corrupted (or ransomed), even though the corruption is uploaded too, the good news is that some Cloud Sync services offer a 30 day backup option that can be used to replace deleted or ransomed files.

So when choosing which Cloud Sync to use, make sure that this is offered.

Cloud Storage

Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure, etc. are massive data centres full of storage drives that work just like your local hard drive, except that you access them securely via the internet. In fact, when you use a cloud sync app like Dropbox, they’re actually sending your data to one of these locations, but with a difference.

While the Sync services have a constant back and forth connection between the storage centre and your folder, Storage services do not – you store a backup that you instigate.

You can access cloud storage on a per/GB basis yourself and upload your entire backup as desired and even though it won’t update with changes on your local network, it will be safe from disaster. When you need to retrieve a file, you simply login and download it.

Your backed up data is secure, protected against disaster, and always available to you. However, because it relies on you/your employee to handle the backup plan and manually take care of the uploads, this is a higher-risk solution. Unless your employee is scouring your network each day/week/month for changes to files and uploading them with fervent dedication, chances are this plan won’t work.

Cloud Backup

Carbonite, Backblaze backup, Crashplan, etc. might not be names you’ve heard before, but they work in the background to monitor changes to files on your computer or network and make sure you’re backed up. You can roll back individual files or whole drives, and even select from earlier backups, not just one. Like sync services, they use cloud storage centres with extra-high security and redundancy so that your data is always there when you need it. Even better, neither you nor your employees need to worry about when it was last done.

The One You Need

Let’s talk planning. We recommend starting with the 3-2-1 strategy. This means having 3 copies in total, 2 of them locally such as on your computer and an external drive, and another offsite in the cloud. Using this strategy keeps your business operating when data disasters occur and is an investment in your uptime.

We can help get you set up with the 3-2-1 method, including selecting the best cloud service for your needs.

Need help with your backup? 3-2-1… Call us on 01455 209505.

Top 5 Cloud Advantages for Small Businesses

Business cloud backup

Cloud technology has created a revolution for small business, changing the way you store, share and backup files. While ‘the cloud’ is often hard to understand because it’s neither in the sky or in a single location, there’s no arguing that it’s improving business storage across the board.

Storage concerns can be a thing of the past as small businesses can benefit from the flexibility, cost savings and protections of cloud solutions. We’ve done the research for you and identified 5 ways small business in particular benefits from making the move.

It’s Cheaper

Budget is always a limiting factor for businesses, many of which are further constrained by pressure from higher up. Some regard investing in cloud solutions as a large expense that can be put off indefinitely. In most cases though, making the switch to cloud storage costs a fraction of the price.

Compared to maintaining and powering servers, scaling to keep up, and repairing in emergencies, cloud storage offers extraordinary savings. With one decision, you get access to high-end infrastructure and dedicated support, plus a healthier bottom line. Cloud solutions were specifically created to meet your needs, which means you only pay for what you use.

Costs remain capped while the benefits continue to rise, a clear advantage for the budget-conscious business.

It’s Secure

A lot of people like having their data where they can see it. But that’s not always the safest option. Natural disasters can happen, break-ins are a worry, and employees are always losing laptops and phones, or have them stolen.

More often though, someone simply makes a mistake and deletes important files, or accidentally infects the system with malware. Cloud storage mitigates every single one of these risks, with storage in ultra-secure locations, protected against disasters, and committed to robust backup systems.

In recent times particularly, we’ve seen many small businesses survive ransomware attacks purely because their critical data was secure in the cloud with clean backups available.

It’s Compliant

We know medical businesses and services need to follow certain regulations when it comes to patient data. This includes security as well as data integrity, plus backups and auditing. Many cloud providers acknowledged this need early on and made sure to offer compliance guarantees. They therefore keep abreast of changing regulations, often implementing new requirements before you’ve even heard about them. With cloud storage systems, you essentially slash your compliance workload and let your provider do the worrying.

It’s Portable

One of the key benefits of cloud storage is your ability to collaborate remotely. In the past, this would have involved multiple file copies that need to be merged back together, often confusing employees as to which is the ‘right’ file. With cloud storage, your staff can work on the same file, using the same interface and real-time updates.

Even having different versions of software is no longer an issue. Employees can work on a file in the office and then securely access the same file from their smartphone, laptop or other location, without needing to buy additional software or worry about version corruption. Sharing and collaborating becomes easier, more desirable and more secure.

It’s Easy to Migrate

One of the biggest concerns we hear is that it will be too disruptive to migrate to cloud solutions all at once. That’s okay. You don’t have to do it all in one day, it can be migrated in stages.

Talk to us about your cloud options by calling us on 01455 209505.

How to Stay Safe from Scams or Malware on Facebook

Facebook scams

At last count, Facebook has clocked up over 2.7 billion users, which makes the platform more attractive than ever for scammers and hackers. While you may be logging in to share your latest family photos or catch up with friends, the chances of accidentally triggering a scam or malware are increasing.

Here’s how to stay safe on Facebook and stop the spread.

Look out for freebies and surveys

Everybody loves a freebie and for the most part the competition posts on Facebook are legitimate. Having said that, when you see a giveaway for vouchers for a mega-store, alarm bells should ring. ‘Do this quick survey and we’ll send you a £50 Amazon Voucher!’ – it’s too good to be true.

Even one click can take you on a journey through the underside of the web, picking up trackers and malware at every stop and at the end, you’re asked to share the post so your friends can get a voucher too…except nobody ever gets the reward.

Check your permissions with games and quizzes

Whenever you access a new game or quiz, you’ll need to give permissions for it to access your Facebook profile. Most people click the okay button without any thought, but if you review the permissions you’re giving, you’ll often find they’re asking for a massive amount of personal data; public profile, friend list, email address, birthday and newsfeed. Do they really need ALL this information?

Sometimes it is from necessity, but bear in mind that some apps can be preparing to launch attacks against you both on and off Facebook. For example, when you call your bank they ask certain security questions like your full name, birthday and maybe which school you went to. All that information is in your Facebook profile and is now shared with your permission.

Don’t friend people you don’t know

Having lots of friends is nice, but that friend could end up costing you. It might be someone pretending to know you, or a picture of a pretty girl to entice men (and vice versa). Once you friend them, they get access to everything your friends can see. In this case, it’s more than the risk of someone knowing your personal data, you’ve just given them intimate access to your life.

If it’s weird, forget it

It doesn’t happen very often, but hackers find ways to take advantage of flaws in Facebook. A common hack that keeps popping up in various forms is to embed malware in a link. The virus then infects your machine and contacts all your friends with an enticing message, like asking whether a picture is of them.

When they click to view the picture, the virus catches them and their friend list, and so on. Facebook is pretty good at staying on top of these flaws, but they need time to fix it. Just like if you got a weird email with an attachment from a friend, make sure that you use that same level of scrutiny in your Facebook and don’t open messages or links that seem out of place.

Need help securing your privacy? Call us on 01455 209505.

4 Reasons to use Anti Spam Filtering in your Business

Anti Spam for your emails

Remember when spam was obvious and it was easy to identify and ignore? Those were the days! The impact on your business would have been minimal, as spam was more an annoyance than anything else.

Spam has matured into an aggressive threat, marked by sophisticated attacks and rapidly evolving techniques. It’s not just random electronic junk mail anymore and it’s putting a costly strain on your business resources, as well as global resources as spam email accounted for a whopping 85% of all email in January 2018 (source: Cisco Talos).

Unfortunately built-in spam filtering from your server or security software may not be enough to fight the spam threat effectively.

How Spam Impacts Your Business

Spam now contains malware, with hackers sending cleverly disguised emails to your business. Once clicked by an employee, it infects your computer system (virus) or steals your private data (phishing) or even both. The malware can then spread across the entire computer network and beyond, including to your clients and vendors.

The very fact that your employees must pause and examine every single link and attachment adds hours of lost productivity and occasionally, spam is so convincing that only an expert would be able to visually identify it. Employees are also more likely to miss an important email, either not seeing it arrive at the same time as a spam attack or becoming overwhelmed with the sheer number of emails.

How Anti-Spam Filtering Can Save Your Business

1. Block threats:

The spam filter’s purpose is to block the spam from ever reaching your employees’ screens. The threat is automatically identified and either held securely or immediately deleted. This is the best way to avoid activating spam malware, as it’s so easy to click through links in an email that seems authentic and important. The effects of that one spam click may be instantaneous or may lie hidden for months. Removing the email before it becomes a risk is a much better option.

You should get a spam filtering solution that provides you with your own control panel, which allows you to identify any spam that gets through as well as being able to check for any false positives (although this should be minimal with a good filtering system).

2. Filter legitimate emails:

Real mail needs to be able to stand out and avoid the trash. Anti-spam filtering has sophisticated recognition abilities which block spam only and allow real mail to land safely in mailboxes.

3. Meet data regulations:

Many businesses are subject to strict privacy and data storage regulations, some more so than others. To continue operation, they have to meet conditions including always using spam filtering to reduce the risk of data breach.

4. Protect your business reputation:

You can see how uncomfortable CEOs are when they hold press conferences to admit a breach. They must acknowledge that they failed to protect client data, or that users may be infected with a virus. Not only do they then face financial loss, their business reputation takes a nosedive. Anti-spam filtering can help to prevent these types of scenarios from happening to you.

Filtering has come a long way in recent years, with complex algorithms identifying and catching spam before it becomes a risk to your business. Real emails can now pass safely through without the classic cry of ‘check the spam folder’, and businesses can work with greater productivity and safety than ever before.

You need email, but you definitely don’t need spam or the chaos it brings to your business.

We can block spam and keep your legitimate emails flowing. Call us on 01455 209505.

Stop your Business becoming a victim of Social Engineering

Social Engineering is a danger to your business

You can have top-notch security in place in your business, but there is still one danger – ‘social engineering’. Most people have never heard of it but perhaps the more familiar term is ‘con’: the art of manipulating people to take certain actions or divulge private information.

Social engineers are a special type of hacker who skip the hassle of writing code and go straight for the weakest link in your security defences – people. A phone call, a cheap disguise or casual email may be all it takes to gain access, despite having solid tech protections in place.

Here are just a few examples of how social engineers work:-


Pretending to be a co-worker or customer who ‘just quickly’ needs a certain piece of information. It could be a shipping address, login, contact or personal detail that they pretend they already know, but simply don’t have in front of them. The email may even tell you where to get the data from.

The hacker may also create a sense of urgency or indicate fear that they’ll get in trouble without this information. Your employee is naturally inclined to help and quickly sends a reply.


Posing as IT support, a government Official or customer, the hacker plausibly and quickly manipulates someone into changing a password or giving out information. These attacks are harder to identify and the hacker can be very persuasive, even using background sound effects like a crying baby or call-centre noise to trigger empathy or trust.

In person

A delivery man in uniform gets past most people without question, as does a repairman. The social engineer can then quickly move into areas of your business that may have sensitive information. Once inside, they essentially become invisible, free to install network listening software or devices, read a note with a password on it, or tamper with your business in other ways.

For example, if your Wi-Fi code is visible (and we see this all the time on ‘post-it’ notes and written signs) then the hacker can get access to your network simply by sitting in a car outside your building and connecting to your network with that password.

Then, with the right knowledge and software, they can cause all sorts of issues.

It’s impossible to predict when and where (or how) a social engineer will strike. The above attacks aren’t particularly sophisticated, but they are extremely effective. Staff naturally try to be helpful, but this can also be a weakness.

Not just in Businesses either – remember that there are regular reports of people being conned by plausible sounding phone calls out of the blue, from people pretending to be from your broadband company or Microsoft – just wanting to get connected to your computer.

So what can you do to protect your Business? First, recognize that not all of your employees have the same level of interaction with people, the front desk clerk taking calls all day would be at higher risk than the factory worker, for example.

We recommend that there should be awareness of the possibility of a security breach – you don’t need formal cyber-security training for each member of staff but the level of risk needs to be identified, focusing on the types of scenarios staff might find themselves in.

Social engineering is too dangerous to take lightly, and unfortunately far too common.

Talk to us about your cyber security options today. Call us at 01455 209505.

Search Google More Safely

Search Google more safely

We all use Google, quickly finding everything we need on the Internet. It’s replaced dictionaries, encyclopedias, instruction manuals, newspapers and in many cases, even doctors (not such a good thing!).

However, sometimes your search results aren’t the real thing and can be downright malicious. For example, we regularly find that customers search for, say, a printer driver software update and they type in something like “XP442 printer driver” . A close look at some of the results shows things like ‘ ‘ or ‘ ‘ – not the manufacturers official website – so you may get a driver but you are very likely to get something unwanted too!

Here’s how to search more safely: –

Pay attention to the URL in Google

Below every result title there’s a URL (website address) in green. No matter what the title says, this URL is where your mouse click will take you. Unfortunately, cyber-criminals will often list their site with a familiar and trusted title but link you to their scam/malware pages.

Another example can be the title of your bank name (eg, Example Bank), which seems legitimate, but the URL could be which is obviously not your bank. Sometimes they’ll attempt to trick you by putting the real site into the link too, eg which makes it even more likely to catch you out when skimming through results quickly. When you visit the page, it might look exactly like your bank’s site and ask for your login details, which are then harvested for attack.

Whilst jibberish in the link is pretty easy to spot, sometimes they’ll take advantage of a small typo that you can easily miss. For example, (missing the letter L).

Notice Google search results v paid adverts

Google does a pretty good job at making sure the most relevant and legitimate sites are at the top of the list, however paid adverts will usually appear above them. Much of the time, these paid ads are also legitimate (and you can quickly check the URL to verify), but occasionally cybercriminals are able to promote their malicious site to the top and catch thousands of victims before being removed.

Similarly, well known businesses can pay for adverts, even though much of their software is classed as ‘Potentially Unwanted Programs’ and technicians remove them from computers every day.

Believe Google’s malicious site alerts

Sometimes Google knows when something is wrong with a website. It could be a legitimate site that was recently hacked, a security setting that’s malfunctioned, or the site was reported to them as compromised.

When this happens, Google stops you clicking through with a message saying “this website may be harmful” or “this site may harm your computer”. Stop immediately, and trust that Google has detected something you don’t want in your house.

Turn on Safe Search

You can filter out explicit search results by turning on Google Safe Search. Whilst not strictly a cyber-security issue, it can still provide a safer Google experience. Safe Search is normally suggested as a way to protect browsing children, but it also helps adults who aren’t interested in having their search results cluttered with inappropriate links, many of which lead to high-risk sites.

Switch Safe Search on/off by clicking Settings > Search Settings > Safe Search.

These are just a few tips to make your searching safer, but the most important is you – never take your internet security for granted and always be cautious when using any search engine, as they can only display what they find out there on the internet – good and bad.

Need some help securing your system? Give us a call on 01455 209505.

How to tell if your Computer has a Virus

How to tell if your computer has a virus

Sometimes computers do strange things that ring alarm bells and the next thing is that you’re running virus scans and demanding everyone come clean about their browsing habits. Fortunately, not all weird occurrences are caused by viruses – sometimes your computer is simply overloaded, overheating or in desperate need of a reboot.

Here are some tell-tale signs of a malware attack:-

1. Bizarre error messages

Look for messages popping up from nowhere that make no sense, are poorly worded or plain gibberish – especially if they’re about a program you don’t even have. Take note of anti-virus warnings too, check the warning is from YOUR anti-virus software and also that it looks like it should.

If a message pops up that isn’t quite right, don’t click. Not even to clear or cancel the message. Close the browser or shut down the computer instead, then run a full scan.

2. Suddenly deactivated anti-virus/malware protection

Certain viruses are programmed to take out the antivirus/antimalware security systems first, leaving you open to infection (this is why we advise our customers to always have all the system tray icons visible on the taskbar, on the bottom right-hand side). If you reboot and your protections aren’t back doing their job, you may be under attack. Attempt to start the anti-virus manually.

3. Social media messages you didn’t send

Are your friends replying to messages you never wrote? Your login details might have been hacked and your friends are now being tricked into giving up personal information or worse. Change your password immediately, and advise your friends of the hack.

4. Web browser acting up

Perhaps you’ve noticed your homepage has changed, it’s using an odd search engine or opening/redirecting to unwanted sites. If your browser has gone rogue, it could be a virus or malware, usually one intended to steal your personal or financial details.

Skip the online banking and email until your scans come up clear and everything is working normally again.

5. Sluggish performance

If your computer speed has dropped, boot up takes longer and even moving the mouse has become a chore, it’s a sign that something is wrong – but not necessarily a virus. Run your anti-virus scan and if that resolves it, great. If not, your computer possibly needs a tune-up or quickie repair.

6. Constant computer activity

You’re off the computer but the hard drive is going, the fans are whirring, and the network lights are constantly flashing? Viruses and malware use your computer resources, sometimes even more than you do. Take note now of what’s normal, and what’s not.

Got a virus? Give us a call at 01455 209505.

CCleaner program hacked

Popular Ccleaner program hacked


Many people use the free CCleaner program which is used for computer maintenance and file cleanup and it is so popular that millions of downloads take place very week.

Unfortunately Piriform, the company which makes the program, has announced that one of the program versions downloaded by millions of users over a four-week period, had been hacked and has been used to install what is called a ‘back-door Trojan’ virus on people’s systems.

The versions which are affected are CCleaner v5.33.6162 and CCleaner Cloud v1.07.3191 for 32-bit Windows – which were downloadable between 15th August and 22nd September.

The hack allowed the program to cause the download of further unwanted software, possibly including keyloggers and ransomware and initial investigations show that that the program was hacked at the company, before being released to the public using their normal download servers.

Information relating to the infected computer may also have been sent to the hackers servers during this period.

CCleaner users with the above versions should immediately uninstall the program and download the latest version as soon as possible. Although the company states that only the above versions are affected, we recommend uninstalling any version downloaded between those dates before reinstalling, just in case investigations later show that more versions were affected.

We also recommend that if you have the one of the versions mentioned above, you should take the usual common sense precautions such as full scanning of your computer with a good security product, as well as keeping an eye on your bank statements, etc.

This incident is not only potentially serious for users it is also embarrassing for the parent company that now owns Piriform – the antivirus security company Avast. Although further investigations are taking place to find out how this happened, many people may now lose confidence in the CCleaner product.

Equifax Data Breach and UK Customers

Equifax Data Breach and what it means for UK customers

Recently, Credit reporting company Equifax has revealed that its databases were hacked in a large-scale breach affecting millions of customers across the US, UK & Canada and personal information was leaked. While no hacking event is ever good news, some are easier to ignore than others – but unfortunately, this isn’t one of them. Major UK companies such as BT and British Gas use Equifax services as well, so there may be UK customers affected too.

Equifax is one of the three main organizations in the US that manages & calculates credit scores. To do that effectively, they have access to almost every piece of financial data for adults – social security, tax file numbers, drivers’ licence, credit card numbers…the big stuff. On July 29, Equifax disclosed the breach, stating that hackers had repeatedly gotten in through a vulnerability in their systems from mid-May to July of this year.

Equifax, cyber-security experts & law enforcement officials are on the case, working to minimize the long-term damage and it may be that the number of customers actually affected in the end may well be small. Also, the UK Regulator – the Information Commissioner – has asked Equifax to inform all UK customers that may be affected.

Whilst you do not need to panic, there is a risk of personal information being in the wrong hands. You should consider that risk, particularly as this type of personal information can circulate for a long time due to the fact that these hackers also sell the information on to others.

Here are a few ideas to protect yourself against possible future compromise: –

Keep a close eye on your finances and accounts.

Check for notifications of new credit applications, monitor your statements and bills, and immediately report any suspicious activity or sudden change in billing.

Change all your passwords to be strong, unique and long.

The stolen data may give hackers a free pass into bank accounts, email and personal information. Add two-factor authentication where possible – this is when an account demands a second layer of authentication before allowing access or changes – so just getting the password correct isn’t enough, the hacker would also need to get the special code sent by SMS text.

If you believe that you have been compromised, consider freezing your credit report.

This makes it harder for identity thieves to open accounts under your name, as access is completely restricted until you choose to un-freeze.

BT have provided the Equifax UK telephone number 0800 014 2955 for customers that have a query over their credit file and they can also be contacted via their website

If you need help with your passwords, give us a call on 01455 209505.