Archive for Information Security – Page 2

Don’t Fall Victim to Webcam Blackmail

Don't fall Victim to Webcam Blackmail

Many customers have reported recent scam messages from individuals claiming to have intercepted their username and password. These messages often state they have been watching your screen activity and webcam while you have been unaware.

Typically, attackers threaten to broadcast footage and your web browsing details to your contacts, colleagues, or social media channels. Demanding payment in Bitcoin payments, malicious hackers blackmail their victims to keep confidential information private.

Where Have the Attacks Come From?

In many cases where hackers have claimed to have a victims’ password, this has turned out to be true, but usually its not because you have been hacked – but rather that a company you have had dealings with has.

In the last few years alone, many large websites have suffered enormous hacks which have released confidential details on many of their users. LinkedIn, Yahoo, Myspace and TalkTalk all suffered massive and devastating hacks. Some users of these services are still feeling the consequences today.

The details leaked from these sites, and others facing the same issues, are sold online for years after the initial breach. Hackers buy username and password combinations in the hopes of reusing them to access services, steal money, or blackmail their owners.

How to Respond if You get One of these Emails

If you have been contacted by one of these hackers, it is a scary reality that they could have access to your credentials, data, and online services. That said, accounts that share the same password should be changed immediately. Security on additional services you use should be updated too.

The only thing you can do in response to this type of email is to ignore it. This “we recorded you” email is a scam made much more believable because they probably do have one of your real passwords gained from a site hack, but that does not mean that they have access to your computer or Webcam.

Self Defence On the Web

When using online services, a unique password for every site is your number one defence. A good password manager program makes this practical and straightforward too.

Using a different password for each site you use means that hackers can only gain access to one site at a time. A hack in one place should never compromise your other accounts by revealing the single password you use everywhere – unfortunately we still do come across customers that only use one password for everything.

Often, people think that maintaining many passwords is hard work or even impossible to do. In truth, it’s almost always easier to keep tabs with a password manager than it is to use the system you have in place today.

A high quality and secure password manager such as LastPass, or 1Password, can keep track of all your logins efficiently and securely. They often offer the chance to improve your security by generating random and strong passwords that hackers will have a tougher time cracking.

Password management services offer a host of features that help you log in, remind you to refresh your security, and make your safety a number one priority. After using a manager for just a short time, you can be forgiven for wondering how you managed without it.

If you think you might have been hacked already, or want to prevent it from ever happening, give us a call on 01455 209505 to help update your security.

CSH Computer Services is a local business providing PC and Laptop repair and I.T. support services to Homes and Businesses. We are based near Lutterworth, Hinckley and Broughton Astley in Leicestershire and provide a full range of services, from PC and Laptop repairs, PC and Laptop upgrades, sales of new computers and workstations plus business network support. We also provide Virus and Malware disinfection, Broadband installation and troubleshooting, data recovery, Wireless networking and troubleshooting, plus much more. We work in and around the whole Leicestershire area and can be seen daily in Lutterworth, Hinckley, Broughton Astley, Market Harborough, Nuneaton, Rugby, Leicester and surrounding areas too.

Invest Well in your IT Security

Invest Well in your Business IT Security

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a common rule for many business owners.  It serves to protect your business against unnecessary costs and unneeded downtime – but it can pose an outright threat when it comes to IT security.  

Security threats to your firm move so fast that your IT should be working just as hard as your company just to keep up.  Every day, hundreds of thousands of new malware threats are released.  Falling even hours behind means any one of these attacks can threaten your business.

The single most dangerous thing IT security can do is stand still.  Keeping up with the latest advice, technology, and updates the security industry offers is vital to keep your business safe.  This makes up much of the unseen job of IT professionals.  Hackers never stop looking for new ways into your system, which means your security can’t stop looking for ways to keep them out.

Modern Systems for Modern Business

One of the most common security threats a business opens itself to is using an outdated operating system or software package.  Many firms are scared to upgrade, update, or renew their IT over fears of breaking legacy systems.  Many rely heavily on old software and are afraid to make a large change themselves.  Some businesses today still run machines on Windows XP, an operating system first released back in 2001.

Old operating systems such as Windows XP, Vista and from next year Windows 7, stop receiving security updates and patches that protect against newly released attacks.  These systems become very vulnerable, presenting a large target for knowledgeable hackers.  This happens many years after newer versions have been released, giving knowing IT firms a chance to migrate safely.

Hackers are always on the lookout for businesses that run IT equipment outside of its suggested service life.  A server, desktop computer, or peripheral is a golden opportunity for criminals to enter and threaten a business.

Hackers purchase their attacks on the dark web, safe in the knowledge that old systems won’t be patched.  These attacks can then be used to attack unguarded firms to steal or compromise vital company data.

An unpatched old machine is like a valuable security door left propped open overnight.

Smart Budgets

Budgeting for business is a difficult task.  We aim to make the most of everything we spend and reduce spending as much as we can and IT security can easily fall very far down the list of priorities.

IT can seem like an easy way to cut costs.  It’s a department that the customer doesn’t always benefit from directly, and when it’s working well, it might not be on the radar at all. Despite working largely behind the scenes, successful IT is one of the critical components of every highly successful firm.

Even businesses far removed from the IT world, typically uses payment machines, ordering systems, and inventory.  Even restaurants and retail stores rely on computers to operate.  Downtime for any critical system can be a complete disaster.  A business can be unable to trade, and costs can mount up fast.

When vital IT components are used by the customer, a sales website, or an automated booking system for example, the problem can multiply tenfold.

Keep On Top Of The Essentials

Good IT isn’t built on high peaks and deep troughs in the yearly budget.  The kind of IT that makes your business and helps it to grow is built by smart financing and careful planning.

Maintaining steady updates, keeping pace with the latest security, and building your IT as you build your business keeps you in the driving seat when it matters most.

When IT is planned and issues are solved before they appear, security becomes cheaper, easier, and many times more effective.  System upgrades can be planned out months, if not years in advance so you are never caught unawares.

Don’t let your IT be broken before you take steps to fix it.  Move ahead of the curve and give us a call on 01455 209505.

New Years Computer Resolutions

New Years Computer Resolutions

New Year resolutions can come and go, but if you would like to keep your computer running smoothly, here are a few tips that can help.

Running the Best Security Software

Most computers today run at least some form of basic antivirus.  In the modern day however, threats have evolved to be more sophisticated, more damaging, and much more common.   Ransomware, malware, phishing, and zero-day attacks all work to attack unpatched systems without strong security.

Today, to keep up with increasing threats, you need a complete internet security package.   A layered system means more than just virus scanning.  A comprehensive security package includes prevention, detection, firewall and system monitoring at a minimum.   These layers work together to provide security many times stronger than a stand-alone system.

Reliable, up-to-date, security keeps you safe online.  It’s a resolution you simply can’t afford to skip.

Clean Up Files

Cleaning up unnecessary files is the number one way to gain additional storage space on a typical device.  It’s cost-effective without any extra hardware purchases too.

Almost all computers have files hanging around from old software, data or applications they no longer need.  Just like tidying the spare room or de-cluttering the kitchen, clearing files off your desktop and organizing your emails will leave your computer feeling refreshed and new again.

Restart Your Computer

Fully shutting down a computer and rebooting can take time.  When you are watching the clock, waiting to start a task or get work done, it can feel like an eternity.  Most of us enjoy simply opening the lid or powering on the screen to have everything ready to run.

Many times, we come across a computer that has not beeen fully restarted in weeks and these habits can cause issues with running software and the operating system too. Hardware updates, security patches, and critical updates often wait for a reboot before they install and reboots or shutdowns perform essential maintenance tasks too.

Merely performing a reboot at least every once in a while can secure your system and help get rid of software problems and updates can prevent new issues from cropping up too. Our general advice is to shutdown daily, unless there is a reason not to do so.

Use A Password Manager

Hacks of large institutions and popular websites are frequently in the news today.  Almost every month a major service reveals they have been hacked, their database compromised, and their customer credentials have been stolen.

For this reason, it is very unwise to use the same password to access multiple websites.  This can be a challenge for many.  It’s clearly impossible to remember a unique and secure password for every site you visit.  We recommend using a password manager that can store and recall your passwords for you.

A good password manager relies on just one, very secure, remembered password to safeguard an encrypted database of all your login credentials.  The password database is often stored in the cloud for access from all your necessary devices.  A manager can typically assist in creating a strong, secure password for each of your accounts too.

Using a good password manager and unique password for every site protects you against the attacks commonly in the news.  Hacks compromising major services from your providers will be powerless against directly affecting your other accounts and services.

Keep Your Computer Away from Dust

Dust, hair, and household debris are one of the major causes of premature death for computers.  Fans, used to cool components, suck in house dust as well as the air they need.  This dust often clogs up the inside of the device and overheats internal components.

If possible, keep a tower PC off the carpet and don’t run your laptop sitting on the floor, blanket, or other soft furnishings.  Cleaning out your device is as good a resolution as any, and there’s never a better time than now.

For a little help sticking to your digital new year resolutions and starting off on the right foot, give us a call today on 01455 209505.

Common Malware to Watch Out For

Common Types of Malware Infection

The term “virus” is often used to describe many different types of infection a computer might have and can describe any number of potential computer programs. What these programs have in common are they are typically used to cause damage, steal data, or spread across the network but they are usually designed for a malicious or criminal intent right from the start.

Malware (‘malicious software’) is any software used for negative purposes on a personal computer  and can actually be legitimate software, but which is being deliberately misused.

Adware

Short for ‘advertising-supported software’, adware is a type of malware that delivers advertisements to your computer.  These advertisements are often intrusive, irritating, and often designed to trick you into clicking something that you don’t want. A common example of malware is pop-up ads that appear on many websites and mobile applications.

Adware often comes bundled with “free” versions of software that uses these intrusive advertising to make up costs.  Commonly it is installed without the user’s knowledge and may be made excessively difficult to remove.

Spyware

‘Spyware’ is designed to spy on the user’s activity without their knowledge or consent.  Often installed in the background, spyware can collect keyboard input, harvest data from the computer, monitor web activity and more.

Spyware typically requires installation to the computer. This is commonly done by tricking users into installing spyware themselves instead of the software or application that they thought they were getting. Victims of spyware are often be completely unaware of its presence until the data stolen is acted on in the form of fraudulent bank transactions or stolen online accounts.

Virus

A typical virus may install a keylogger to capture passwords, logins, and bank information from the keyboard.  It might steal data, interrupt programs, and cause the computer to crash but  more commonly, includes a ‘ransomware’ package – see below.

Modern virus programs commonly use your computers processing power and internet bandwidth to perform tasks remotely for hackers – the first sign of this can be when the computer sounds like it is doing a lot of work when no programs should be running.

A computer virus is often spread through installing unknown software or downloading attachments that contain more than they seem but perhaps the most common is by links in emails.

Ransomware

A particularly malicious variety of malware, known as ransomware, prevents the user from accessing their own files until a ransom is paid.  Files within the system are often encrypted with a password that won’t be revealed to the user until the full ransom is paid.

Instead of accessing the computer as normal, the user is presented with a screen which details the contact and payment information required to access their data again.

Ransomware is typically downloaded through malicious file attachments, email, or a vulnerability in the computer system. This si the type of infection that seriously affected NHS machines not too long ago.

Worm

Among the most common type of malware today is the computer ‘worm’.  Worms spread across computer networks by exploiting vulnerabilities within the operating system.  Often these programs cause harm to their host networks by consuming large amounts of network bandwidth, overloading computers, and using up all the available resources.

One of the key differences between worms and a regular virus is its ability to make copies of itself and spread independently.  A virus must rely on human activity to run a program or open a malicious attachment; worms can simply spread over the network without human intervention.

No need to be paranoid!

So with all these types of infections, it would be easy to be put off using computers altogether and we have certainly met people that do the minimum possible with theirs, due to infection worries.

The fact is that we have found that the typical number of calls for traditional computer virus infections has gone down over recent times and that more often than not, infections today are the result of scams or insufficient security protection.

If you use common sense, a good security package (preferably paid for as opposed to a free version) and are cautious with what you do online and download, then you can reduce the chances of infection – but you must remain vigilant.

If you would like us to help  keep your systems safe from malware, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Storage Struggles? How to keep up with the Data explosion

Storage Struggles? How to keep up with the data explosion

Even though many businesses and home users have already embraced the benefits of going fully digital, the digital boom also presents brand new problems too. By moving all our files into a digital space, the amount of storage we need to maintain has grown larger and larger just to keep up.

Moving to digital has allowed us to do more than ever before. It can save both time and money iterating over work drafts and emails as well as saving a ton of space too, eliminating the need for stacks of filing cabinets in every office. For home users, many people now have over 100GB of important data (such as irreplaceable photos), on their computers and other devices.

As digital technology has improved, the resolution, clarity, and size of the digital files we create has exploded. Items such as Xrays, which used to be printed on film are now digital files transferred by computer. As a result of the increase in both the number of digital files we use and their ever-growing size, the size of the data we need to store has exploded exponentially.

There are a number of ways in which we can tackle our ever-growing storage problem.

Local Server or Network Attached Storage (NAS)

A local server is a machine physically located within your own office or building. These are typically designed to serve many files to multiple clients at one time from locally held storage.

The primary advantage that a local network server has is that all your vital data is available to all users in one central location. This means that everyone across the network can access all the resources made available. These machines can serve files at the speed of the local network, transferring large projects, files, and documents from a central position within the network with ease.

The downside of having your own server is the costs of purchase and ongoing maintenance, as well as its vulnerability, for example if the server goes wrong, is stolen or offline for some other reason, everything stops.

A NAS has many of the same network properties, typically packaged as a smaller profile, low powered computer but at a reduced cost compared to a server. A NAS is specifically designed to enable network file sharing in a more compact package and can be available in units small enough to fit in a cupboard nook but still provide staggering storage capacity, on only a small amount of power.

Both a local server and NAS device allow for large amounts of storage space to be added to the local network. These units are often expanded with more and more storage over time. As an organization grows over time, so do its data storage requirements.

Cloud Storage

Sometimes the best option for storage is to move your ever-expanding data outside of the business or home completely. Often, offloading the costs of hardware and IT management can work out to be an intelligent business decision and one that provides freedom and flexibility in your data storage needs.

The major advantage of cloud storage comes from the ability to expand and contract your data as needed without the unnecessary overhead of adding and maintaining new hardware. Plus, they usually have multiple copies, so your data is protected to a far greater extent than if you had your own server or NAS.

By moving storage to the cloud, data can be accessed from anywhere in the world provided you have the login details. The flexibility provided by cloud storage allows limitless expansion to any number of devices, locations, and offices. Being able to access data from many locations at a single time can often provide a valuables boost to productivity that can help to speed projects along.

Not only that, cloud services such as Dropbox also provide ransomware protection as they can replace infected files with clean copies where necessary.

The main drawback of cloud storage comes from factors that may be outside of the control of the user – the main one being that not all internet connections are found to be up to the task of handling large amounts of data to and from the cloud. In some cases, the infrastructure is quite simply not in place yet to support it.

IT security regulations or other concerns can also prove to be a barrier to enabling storage in the cloud too. Some regulations either prohibit the feature entirely or you simply may not want certain types of data in an offsite location.

The Right Choice for your data

Whatever your situation, whether a small NAS, local Server or Cloud setup is best to protect your important data, we can advise on your best choices.

Give us a call on 01455 209505 to allow us to use our expertise to make the right choice for your data.

How to Tell if You Have Been Hacked

How to Tell if You Have Been Hacked

Being hacked is the single biggest fear of most computer users. Many believe that the first sign of strange behaviour or errors on their PC is a sign that hackers have taken control. But are hackers really inside your machine, stealing your information? Or should we be on the lookout for more subtle signs? What does being hacked really look like?

There is an important distinction to make between being hacked by a person and being infected with a virus or malware. Virus software and malware are automated processes designed to damage your system, steal your data, or both. There are of course ways that we can defeat these processes, but what if we are instead hacked by an individual?

Remote Connections

Our previous blog posts have warned people about not allowing strangers to remotely access their computers unless they are 100% sure that they are genuine.

Remote Support technology is a very useful tool but if you allow the wrong people to remotely connect, they can be doing things in the background that you may not be aware of. For example, whilst speaking to you they can be downloading software that they can then use to convince you that your computer has a problem – i.e. displaying fake error messages. Needless to say, they can also be gathering information from your computer too.

They can also leave software on your machine which in many cases is very difficult to spot. You should only allow people to connect when you have approached them – never from a phone call or email coming to you out of the blue, no matter how believable or what they appear to know about you.

Logins not working

One of the first steps a hacker might take would be to change the computers passwords. By doing so, not only do they ensure future access to the account, they prevent you from accessing the system to stop them. For the hacker, this is a crucial step that keeps them in control.

Being hacked is not the only reason why you may not be able to login, but it is a possible symptom that you need to bear in mind. We always need to make sure to keep on top of our own login details and how often we change them.

Security Emails or SMS’s from online services

Many services track which device and location you logged into your account from last. If your account is accessed from a new device or a different country it might trigger an automated email or SMS to ask if this new login is your own.

If you have logged in using a new computer, tablet, or phone; an email that asks “hey, is this you?” need not be cause for alarm. If you haven’t, it may be time to investigate further. This service is an important part of information security and may be a key first step to identify someone else gaining access to your account.

Bank accounts – strange transactions

Most commonly today, hackers commit crimes to steal money. The end goal for hackers is typically to profit from their crimes by taking money from people online. Obviously it pays to keep a regular eye on your financial transactions to make sure you know what money is coming and going from your account, especially when doing online banking.

Whilst you may see a large sum missing where hackers have attempted to take as much as they can in a single transaction, this is not always the case. Alternatively small, hard to notice transactions may sometimes appear. These often account for small purchases where attackers have tested the details that they have, to make sure they work. Hackers may even wait months before attempting a transaction.

Either way, the sooner you spot unusual or unrecognized transactions, the better.

Sudden loss of cellular connectivity

Mobile network interruption is a symptom that few people expect but occurs commonly when hackers attack. Many banks and online services use a security feature known as Two-factor authentication. To do this they send a short code to your phone or app when you log in. Two-factor authentication is ideal in most cases and is a great boost to security.

Determined hackers can try to work around this by calling your mobile service provider to report your phone as lost or stolen. During this call, they will request your phone number be transferred to a new sim card that they control. When your bank sends its regular two-factor authentication code to the number registered, it goes instead to the hacker who may be able to log in. From your perspective the phone service will simply stop working.

Unusual or unrecognized icons

In many cases hacking software tries to be stealthy and not be seen, but there are some that do not hide themselves so much because the hackers believe that it may not be noticed. A common one is remote connection software that can only be seen as a tiny icon in the bottom right-hand corner of a Windows computer, which automatically starts up every time you switch the computer on. It is hiding amongst all the other small icons and is frequently overlooked.

Similarly there may be an icon appearing on the Desktop which you do not recognize or remember installing, or your normal search engine changes to something else – if a virus or malware has caused this, what else is going on?

Keeping vigilant and maintaining security

These are only some of the modern techniques that hackers can try to use to gain access to your accounts. You don’t need to be paranoid but it pays to be extra vigilant and pay close attention to the signs and signals that indicate you may have been hacked.

Also, make sure that you have a good security product installed – it makes it that much harder for hackers.

If you suspect that you might have been hacked, or would like help to prevent hackers in future, give us a call on 01455 209505 and we’ll help improve your security.

Top 5 I.T. Problems for Businesses

Top 5 I.T. Problems for Businesses

Companies that suffer security breaches nearly always have at least one of these IT security problems. Do any apply to your company?

No Backups

A shocking number of businesses are not backing up their data properly. According to market research company Clutch, 60 percent of businesses who suffer a data loss shut down within six months.

Not only should every business be fully backing up their data, but their backups should be regularly tested to work too. It’s a step that businesses miss surprisingly often. Many businesses don’t find out that their backup can’t be used until it’s already too late.

Reactive and not proactive

The world is constantly changing. The IT world doubly so. Attackers are always figuring out new ways to break into businesses, hardware evolves faster than most can keep up, and old systems fail due to wear and tear far quicker than we would like. A huge number of businesses wait until these issues impact them directly before they respond.

The result is usually higher costs, longer downtime, and harder hitting impacts.

By responding to hardware warnings before it fails, fixing security holes before they’re exploited, and upgrading systems before they are out of date: IT can be done the right way. Being proactive about your IT needs means systems don’t have to break or compromised before they are fixed. The result for your business is less downtime, fewer losses, and lower IT costs.

Weak Passwords

A surprising number of people will use the password “password” to secure some of their most important accounts. Even more still will write their own password on a post-it note next to their computer or allow everyone else to know what the password is. In some cases, many will even use no password at all.

Strong passwords act, not only as a barrier to prevent unwanted entry, but as a vital accountability tool too. When system changes are made it’s often essential that the account that made changes is secured to the right person. With an insecure password or worse; none at all, tracking the individual responsible for reports or accountability becomes impossible. This can result in both auditing disasters on top of technical ones.

Insufficient Staff Training

Humans in the system are commonly the weakest point in IT security. Great IT security can be a bit like having state-of-the-art locks on a door propped open with a milk crate. If staff aren’t trained to use the lock, it’s worth nothing at all.

Many times businesses can justify spending big on security for the latest and greatest IT defences but the very same firms may exceed their budget and spend almost zero on training staff to use them. In this instance, a little goes a long way. Security training can help staff to identify a threat where it takes place, avoiding and mitigating damage, often completely.

Weak Data Controls

Some companies can take an ad-hoc, fast and loose approach to storing professional data. Often crucial parts can be spread across many devices, copied needlessly, and sometimes even left unsecured. Client data can be found regularly on employee laptops, mobile phones, and tablet devices. These are famously prone to being misplaced or stolen out in the field along with vital client and security data.

It can be easy for both employees and firms to focus on the costs of devices and hardware purchased for the business. The reality is that the data held on devices is almost always worth many times more than the device that holds it. For many firms, their approach to data hasn’t been changed since the firm was first founded. Critical data is often held on single machines that haven’t been updated precisely because they hold critical data. Such machines are clearly vulnerable, outdated, and prone to failure.

Common problems with simple solutions

Each of these common issues have simple solutions to secure against IT failure. With a professional eye and expertise in the field, every business should be defended against IT issues that risk the firm.

If you need help securing your IT to protect your business, give us a call on 01455 209505.

Are Registry Cleaners a Good Idea?

Are Registry Cleaners a Good Idea?

We regularly see programs on customer computers that claim to be “Registry Cleaners”, “PC Boosters” or similar names, so we thought it best to talk about these so-called ‘helpful’ bits of software.

For example, a recent virus infection near Lutterworth was the direct result of one of these software programs.

You may have been alerted by popups while browsing the web, by (often flashing) advertisements claiming that your computer has hundreds or even a thousand errors requiring urgent attention to fix. Perhaps helpfully, these popups offer a solution to cure your computer with a click of the mouse and buttons marked “fix now” appear to offer a simple fix to all your computer troubles.

These advertisements are often described as “Registry Cleaner”, or by a few other names that attempt to convince the user they will somehow clean or improve their computer, such as “Optimizer”, “Tune Up” and the like. Within the IT industry they are known as “scareware” – they are software programs designed to convince you that your computer has problems that it might not have.

Are they trustworthy?

Almost all popups and advertisements that use banners saying “Fix now for free” are not trustworthy at all. They are little more than a scam attempting to take your credit card details, PC data or both. These programs might claim to scan your computer and show a convincing list of plausible sounding computer problems. Using this, they will ask for payment to “fix” these problems, to get your PC back in shape again.

At worst, these advertisements can be downright malicious. Some may attempt to use fake warnings and scare tactics to trick customers into installing spyware on their own computers. When installed, spyware will attempt to steal information in the background. Attackers may use this technique to steal usernames, passwords, emails, and credit card details and sometimes the first sign a user has that something is wrong, is when a virus scan detects software doing something it shouldn’t be.

Quite often, you can find that the program itself will automatically download further scareware or malware.

Do I need to clean the Registry?

The Windows Registry is a collection of settings that essentially cover everything on your computer, from the desktop that you see when you log in (which may be different to someone else’s) to important settings for programs that are installed. The Registry is vital to your computer and if it is corrupted or incorrectly modified, it can cause your computer to be unusable.

As professional technicians, we do not go into the Registry unless we have to and then only after backing it up first, so that it can be replaced if necessary. Even though searches on Google, Bing etc. and forums show entries routinely talking about changing this and modifying that in the Registry, we do not recommend doing so.

More importantly, we do not recommend letting any computer program do it either, but don’t just take our word for it. Microsoft do not supply a Registry Cleaning program for good reason and they actively discourage people from using one.

What about Optimising?

The Windows system and various applications installed on your PC do leave files stored your computer. These files can stay behind or go out of date even after the application that initially made them has been removed. These files can use up a little space on the hard drive and generally cause minor clutter within the system.

Despite the large amount of “scareware” and fraudulent computer cleanup scans out there, legitimate applications designed to clean your system do exist. This can be something we cover and is often done as a single small part of a complete computer tune up. Keeping up with out of date files and freeing up unused space is worthwhile and can be considered “good housekeeping”.

However, the vast speed boosts many online advertisements claim to unlock, by simply moving files around are almost always false.

Do your research before installing any program that purports to “Optimise” your computer, especially from an advert or worse still, a pop-up. Also check to see if that program has a Registry cleaning module and if it does, switch that module off.

Remember that computers are commonly upgraded and can be boosted by more conventional means. If the speed of your PC is no longer up to the task, there are ways in which we can unlock far greater gains than simple housekeeping chores.

PC “Boosters”

Some programs claim to boost the performance of your computer, but again we do not recommend letting a computer program automatically change important system settings, which may have a negligible impact anyway.

Relatively low-cost hardware components such as memory can often be added to boost the speed of even an older PC and unlock a new lease of life. Depending on the computer, upgrading the computers RAM can double the working memory available to the operating system. With extra memory, many programs can keep more information available to work with and this upgrade can reduce loading times and increases the computers ability to run more programs at once.

Another common speed boosting upgrade involves how we store and load data from the computer. Switching from an older style mechanical hard drive to a modern Solid State Disk (SSD) can bring down the startup and loading time of any PC – again depending on the age and condition of the computer in the first place.

These upgrades offer boosts in speed to rival a modern system at only a fraction of the cost originally paid for the computer. Upgrading the RAM, swapping to an SSD, or doing both will provide an instant, dramatic, and safe improvement to the speed of your PC, without introducing dodgy or po.

The most important thing to remember, is to not trust Registry Cleaning programs if at all possible and if you must access it, back up first or better still, get a professional to help you. When it comes to Tune Up programs, check the programs out by reviews and search engine research, before letting that program anywhere near your computer, let alone paying for it.

If your computer is running slow give us at a call on 01455 209505 to arrange a real and professional cleanup.

Protecting your Privacy Online

Protecting your Privacy Online

Maintaining your privacy while using the internet has become more challenging over the years. The recent Facebook privacy scandal made that abundantly clear, with users shocked at how much information had been recorded about them. While it’s almost impossible to enjoy the internet and leave zero digital footprints, there are things you can do to hide your online activities – some more effective than others.

1. Get a virtual private network (VPN)

A fancy name that means that an encrypted connection is created between your computer and the VPN company, so that when you visit a website, the website can only see the VPN company computer – not yours. VPNs aren’t just for business and downloaders now, they’ve gone mainstream and are even advertised on national TV (such as NordVPN advertisments).

The other computer could be in another city or another country, which is why some people use VPN’s to watch movies and programs that you do not get in the UK, as you can get extra content in other countries and can access that extra content if the VPN computer is in that country (although this is usually frowned upon by providers such as Netflix who actively try to block it).

You essentially run around the internet pretending to be another computer in another location. Since your connection is encrypted, even your broadband company can’t see what you’re doing online, making your usage anonymous.

The downsides: Because your internet usage has to route through another computer first, your browsing and download speed could be affected. Some (not all) can be tricky to set up and not all VPNs offer the same privacy levels (the better ones tend to be more expensive). Some websites may even block visits from people using VPNs, so you may end up switching it on/off as required.

2. Go Incognito, InPrivate or Private Window

Most browsers have a private browsing mode, each called something different. For example, Google Chrome calls it ‘incognito’, Microsoft calls it ‘InPrivate’ and Firefox calls it ‘Private Window’. Before you take the name at face value, it’s a good idea to talk about how they define ‘private’.

Unlike a VPN where you can dance around the internet anonymously, private browsing simply means it won’t show up in your browser history, or what you entered into forms. This feature is free, so you always have the option to use it, and it’s actually more helpful than you might think. Common uses include price shopping to reset sale timers, access local-only pricing and overriding usage limits on certain sites.

Some sites use cookies to control your free trials and private browsing can help you get around that.

While private browsing can help keep your internet usage under wraps, it’s not a magic bullet to cover all possibilities. Many people believe they’re invisible AND invulnerable while private browsing, a mistake they end up paying for.

The downsides: It can’t pre-fill saved passwords and it won’t help you type in the website name even if you’ve been there before.

3. Always think about who’s watching

While you might be naturally careful when using a public computer, have you thought about who’s watching what you do on your work computer? Some workplaces have employee monitoring software that tracks all sorts of data, including taking screenshots of your desktop. It helps them create rules about computer usage but it may also provide them with evidence you’ve been breaking those rules.

Stepping out to the internet cafe can be even more risky, as people can install keyloggers that record every keystroke, including your credit card numbers and logins. You’ll never know your activities are being recorded, even if you use private browsing.

The downsides: Being aware of who may be watching? None.

Awareness of the risks and the possibility of being watched ensures you’re more likely to use the internet safely.

Whatever you choose to do to protect your privacy, you’ll still need solid anti-virus and password habits to protect against threat, and to be a smart internet user who avoids suspect websites. Consider the options above as privacy-enhancing measures, not one-stop solutions.

Need help with your online privacy? Give us a call on 01455 209505.

How to Securely Dispose of Old Computers

How to Securely Dispose of Old Computers

Getting a computer can be exciting, but what happens to the old ones? Depending on the age, some people sell them, others throw them out. That’s the easy part – the problem is the sensitive data on them. There are passwords, account numbers, license keys, customer details, medical information, tax returns, browser history…. the works.

Whether it’s for home use or business use, laptops, tablets or desktop hard drives contain a treasure trove of sensitive information that cybercriminals would love to get their hands on. Unfortunately, hitting ‘delete’ on your files doesn’t actually make them disappear, nor does waving a strong magnet over the drive. These mistakes have cost businesses millions over the years.

Why hitting ‘delete’ doesn’t help

Data on a hard drive works like a book with an index page. Every time data is written, it pops a quick entry into the index so that when you need it again, it knows where to look. The index is used for files you create as well as system files you can’t even see. Sensible, right?

Except that if you delete a file it isn’t physically deleted – it’s more like changing the index to say that nothing is on page 10 and you can write something else there when you’re ready. But if you ignore the index and manually go to page 10, you’ll find that the information is still there – the file exists until it has been written over.

The only thing that is deleted is the index reference, not the file itself.

Re-using the computer

Most people are unaware that specialized data cleanup is necessary if the computer is to be reused.

A 2016 experiment proved just how dangerous the situation can be when 200 used ex-business hard drives were purchased and 67% held unwiped, unencrypted sensitive data, including sales projection spreadsheets, CRM records, and product inventories. Frighteningly, they didn’t need any special hacking skills to get this data, it was all right there and helpfully labelled.

It’s also not surprising that with simple data recovery tools, people have also been able to access British NHS medical records and defence data, all waiting patiently on a discarded hard drive.

Wiping data before re-use or selling

Data on a hard drive can only be securely deleted if the area on the drive that contains the data, has been overwritten enough. There are specialist tools available to ‘deep-read’ a drive, so the success of overwriting a drive depends on how effectively it has been overwritten.

For example the US Defence Department requires a drive to be overwritten a number of times, including using random characters, (not just ones and zeros as some programs use) before they class the drive as securely wiped.

There are software tools you can get to do it yourself, as well as dedicated security firms, but your best option is to choose an IT business you know and trust as some software does not clear the hard drive sufficiently. With that in mind, a methodical approach is required to ensure not a single drive is left untreated as you don’t want to leave data behind, or even clues that a motivated person could extrapolate any private information from.

We can migrate any needed data, backup the information then securely wipe or destroy the hard drives for you.

Data when disposing of a computer

When we supply new computers to homes or businesses, we copy the data from the old computer and transfer it into the new one, so things like documents, photos, even internet browser favourites are in the same place on the new machine, ready to use. But the old hard drive is still there, containing all the private data that you don’t want to allow into the wrong hands, so what is the best thing to do?

We give the customer a choice. We hand the customer the old hard drive so that they can either keep the drive securely at home, or at their business – not only can they be sure that the information is still secure but this has the added benefit of having a backup copy available, should it be needed.

Alternatively, they can simply destroy the drive and the rest of the old computer can just go for recycling. Computers need to be recycled as they contain metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium which is not intended for landfill or incineration. Also there are metals (including rare and precious metals) which can be recovered.

You don’t even need special equipment to destroy it, either smash the drive or use some other method of physically destroying it, such as drilling – just be very careful! If the drive is a mechanical one with spinning platters, once damaged beyond repair it is highly likely that no-one could get to your data.

Whether you are passing on, selling or just throwing away your old computer, always bear in mind that the hard drive inside it contains important and sensitive data, so you do need to make a decision about what to do with the drive.

Need help with your old hard drives? Give us a call on 01455 209505.