Computer & PC Help

PASSWORDS12 May

It seems to me that people do not pay much attention to the passwords they use for things like banking, email accounts, Facebook accounts, amazon account etc.  First rule of thumb is do not trust anyone, meaning the site/company you’re dealing with to protect your password.  Companies get cracked all the time, they are exploited via malware which is mostly because someone in the organization opened an email attachment, clicked on a link or went to a website without really looking or knowing what they are doing.  All it takes is one user to set off that “bomb”. Once that “bomb” is set in motion all bets are off and passwords can be cracked and you, the user can also be exploited.  It happens all the time.

Education is your best friend regardless if you work in a business, where you have access to a PC and the internet (most of us do) or you’re a home user.  It doesn’t matter, awareness of what you are doing makes all the difference in the world and can save you from the headache of being hacked.

Being in IT for almost 20 years, I’ve heard it all.  The usual excuses range from “I don’t have time to really look at my emails because I get so many of them so I just skim them and do what I can”. “I can’t remember all those passwords so I try to make them as short and as simple as possible”.  “I clicked on that link because it popped up and it said it would clean my PC”

Well, in the two to five seconds it took you to ignore the rules, it might have just cost you hundreds of dollars, your identity stolen and your accounts hacked.  If something is too good to be true it’s just not true.  Why would suddenly coupons appear for $75-$100 discount for a store on Facebook?  Well the simple answer is because users are so gullible!  They want to believe that this is going to save them money if they simply click here and install the hidden software attached to this stuff; that’s what these people are hoping for.  In the five seconds it takes you to share that coupon for $75 from your favorite store, that cracker on the other end might have just gained access to your Facebook account, your email account and perhaps your banking information.  Is that worth it? No! If you just took the 2 minutes to really think about it you’d realize it’s just a scam.  So you might be thinking, “Well how will I know when something is real then?”  Short answer is treat everything like it’s a threat – doing that probably will protect you from being hacked.  Also consider this… If you use the same password for your on-line banking, your retailer accounts and other on-line things then once your password is discovered everything you do on line is virtually lost!  The criminal will have access to it all and believe it or not, most people use the same passwords for everything.  This is a big no-no!   You’ve basically given the “keys to the kingdom” to the criminal that cracked your password.  Use different complex password for all your different accounts.

Without getting to technical I will try to explain passwords and the need for complexity in them and why you should always maintain long complex passwords for everything you do on line and in business.  First thing to understand is the longer and more complex your password is, the harder and longer it is for a cracker to steal.  That doesn’t mean you should use 100 letter passwords you can’t remember. It simply means using passwords like password1 PassW0rd1 or even P@ssw0rd will not protect you at all.  Using your birthday for example 32356abc will not help you either.

The reason for this is the following. When a hacker/cracker for example cracks a company like a bank or for example, an on line retailer they gain access to their network.  This gives the cracker access to things like servers and databases.  All passwords are stored on a server in a database.  Basically when you type your password it gets compared to what’s in that database and if it matches you are authenticated and allowed access to whatever you’re trying to reach.  So if a cracker gains access to this database they can simply steal the database, download it to their own machines and run tools to crack your passwords. And believe me there are many tools to crack passwords.  The shorter and easier your password is, the easier it is for that criminal to crack it.  (Think about what happened to Sony.  Most likely someone within the organization opened an email that was sent to them with some type of attachment, they opened it and set off that “bomb.  This cost Sony millions not to mention the embarrassment of publishing emails.  It was so simple for the crackers to do this.)

These programs look for things like asdfghjkl (which is the second row of letters on your keyboard), or password (any variation of that), birthdays etc.  These programs are set to look at dictionary words, combinations of letters and numbers and even dates in order to obtain your password.  The longer and more complex your password is the harder it is for that program to obtain it.   That’s a simple as I can make it. So, if a person is using for example the password – P@ssw0rd1;  it will probably be stolen within the first five seconds of the program, but if the user has a complex password for example MyCh1|dr3n@! Which is more complex or My1$tb0Rn1$@b0y! It’s going to take much more time and money on the criminal’s part to figure out what that password is.  If you look at the 2 passwords I just created they are actual phrases the 1st one is my children @1 the second one is my 1st born is a boy!  All I did was take a phrase I can remember and mix it up with letters, numbers and special characters.  Doing things like this will make it much harder for the cracker on the other end to decipher what your password really is. I’m not suggesting this is 100% full proof because honestly nothing is, but the more difficult/complex you make it the harder it becomes for that criminal to steal your password.

What I want you the user to understand is that it’s basically up to you to protect your information and identities on the internet.  Being aware of what you’re doing, slowing down and thinking before you open that email and click on that attachment and going to that website and installing something that says it will clean your PC is just not a good idea.

Lastly, these criminals are getting smarter, they have ways of even misidentifying themselves on the phones, they can spoof caller ID so for example say you get a call from someone claiming to be from a technical company and they tell you that your PC is infected with a virus and they will for Free remote in and clean it. Well looking at the caller ID perhaps that is a real caller?  Really?  How in the world would anyone know on the outside that your computer is infected with a virus? The answer is they would never know and you should not fall for that.  Once you give that person on the other end of the telephone access to your PC they will have access to your mail, banking information and anything else you may do on line.  My advice is to hang up that phone.

I hope you follow these simple tips for safety on the internet

Computer & PC Help

RANSOMWARE VIRUS16 Apr

I’m pretty crazy when it comes to spam protection and virus protection and I try to help people out as much as possible. This new strain the Ransomware Virus is a “killer”, mainly because there is no fix and there is no way out once you’ve been hit. So what can you do? Regardless if you are a business or a home user here’s some of my suggestions.

  • Awareness – This means think before you click. Or simply never click on anything on the internet without reading it! To many times I see people opening things or installing things without even knowing what they are doing. If you just take a minute to look carefully instead of mindlessly clicking on ok or yes you’d be able to catch many things that you should never install. If something doesn’t seem right to you just simply close your browser and start over. It’s as easy as that.
  • Email This is the easiest way to get caught especially in business. We are so bombarded with emails that we don’t stop to take a minute to see who they are from. NEVER TRUST AN EMAIL! Scammers use the logos of legitimate companies and make fake email letters and ads with phony links. You click on that phony link and you’re infected. Inspect all email it takes an extra five minutes to protect yourself.
    • A always look at the spelling. If there are spelling or grammar errors, then its most likely a fake
    • B – Never ever click on an attachment or a web link unless you are 100% sure of where you are going. So many people get infected because they get an email from UPS or Fed Ex with an attachment and they open it. Most of them aren’t even expecting a package! You need to KNOW that these companies if they email you will email you tracking numbers not attachments.
    • C Take the time to look at the email header – it will always tell you who it’s from. Just basically if you’re using a web mail program you can just right click on the sender address. If it has something like cpamea@msn,yahoo, etc it’s probably a fake a real one will look something like this – See my post “Is that email REAL or FAKE – How to Tell” – There a bunch of information on how to check to see if an email is real or fake.

Backups

  • If you backup your information on a device such as an external hard drive or USB drive, if you do get infected you at least have something to put back. I’m talking about pictures, documents, spreadsheets, etc. and keep it disconnected from your computer until you need it. This will save you especially if you have a home business. In a corporation there’s a saying in IT “you are only as good as your last backup”. So backup everything you can’t afford to loose

Phone Scams –

  • I’ve had people call me up telling me the IRS called them and they owe money and if they don’t pay within a specific amount of time the police will be coming to arrest them. This is phony – the IRS will never call you. There’s another scam where you receive a phone call that you have a virus on your machine and they would like to remote in to your computer and remove the virus. OK how in the world would someone calling you on the phone know you’re PC has a virus? I’ve had people call me up with computers that are completely locked and they can’t even login to them unless they pay. NEVER ever let anyone remote into your PC that you do not know.

POP UPS –

  • Beware of website pop-ups that require immediate action (e.g., pop ups to install antivirus software or to “act now” to protect your computer). This will install a virus.

 

What do you do if you get infected?

  • If you are in a corporation call your IT department don’t try to handle it yourself. That’s what they are there for.
  • If you are a home user shut down your machine and call a tech you can trust to clean your machine. If you have backups, then you will be saved. If you happen to get infected with Ransomware there’s nothing you can do if you have no backups. If you pay these people you are only encouraging them to keep this up so protect yourself.

I hope these few simple tips will help protect you on the internet and when opening mail. The only way to stop these people is to do our best to avoid getting infected.  Virus protection will not protect you.

There’s one other suggestion I can make if you’re a home user who knows how to configure a router.  Symantec has something called Norton ConnectSafe which is two DNS IP addresses you can put in your router. This is ONLY for the HOME user not for Business.

It does the following:

All policies block malware, phishing and scam sites.

Pornography includes sites that contain sexually explicit material.

Other includes sites that feature: mature content, abortion, alcohol, crime, drugs, file sharing, gambling, hate, suicide, tobacco or violence.

You can find the information at

https://dns.norton.com/configureRouter.html

Computer & PC Help

Year End Wrap-Up – Think Before You Click14 Dec

Another year is about to end and still we are plagued by Malware and Viruses. This year we’ve seen the rise of the crypto-randsom virus which literally encrypts everything on your hard drive and everything connected to your PC. Unless you pay, your information is encrypted and therefore useless. I would hope you don’t pay because that only encourages these people to send more malware and viruses.

Remember these rules… Microsoft, IRS, FBI any and all banks, UPS, Fed ex and USPS will never ever correspond with you by email. You need to be diligent when you surf the internet and when you inspect your email. I’ve written several blogs on bad mail, viruses and how to spot phony email addresses and if you’ve been following me you are aware of all of this.

I suspect, but I have no knowledge of, or any information on, that the recent hacking into Sony Pictures was started by someone opening an infected email. This happens all the time! Someone gets an email either from someone in their company or a friend with an attachment or a link to a website, they open the attachment or they click on the link and ‘bang” the malware is let lose and things get destroyed and thousands of dollars is spent trying to locate these criminals and fix the security. But the major security weakness is YOU. Sony Pictures is now being picked apart  because they were hacked and all their information was comprised.

First of all that infected email was sent  with a false address. The display name might be from someone you know like a friend or co-worker, but the actual address is usually xyz@something.com. If you read my blog “Is that email REAL or Fake – How to Tell”, you will understand how to check for a phony email with a display name you know.

The reality is this, your virus protection is only as good as the updates and only IF the virus or malware is already known can it protect you.  Usually there’s a major outbreak of a virus before the security companies can identify how to stop it – so in a sense they play “catch-up”  That doesn’t mean don’t use virus protection because it will protect you.  There are also things you can install in your browser like WOT – Web Of Trust.  But with all that you can still get infected.  The BEST virus/malware protection is YOUYOU have the power to stop yourself from being hacked. All that is required is that you pay attention to that email in your in box regardless if your home or at work,  pay attention when surfing the internet. This will save you from unwanted problems.

  • Why would you receive an email from UPS, FedEx or USPS if you did not order a package?
  • How could you win a foreign lottery if you never played?
  • How did you get that million dollar inheritance from an aunt/uncle in Nigeria if you have no family there?
  • How did you get the job if you never even applied?
  • Why would a bank that’s not even your bank suddenly ask you to update your information on line if you don’t even have an account with them? For that matter, why would your bank ask you to do that?
  • Has Microsoft ever sent you and email to tell you your PC needs to be updated?

My mother told me long ago that curiosity killed the cat and she was right! These criminals are hoping your curiosity will kick in and you’ll open that email and click on that attachment or link and suddenly your infected with a virus or malware, your home page is changed. you have all these pop-up and now you have some crazy tool bar in your browser and you have no idea how it got there. It got there because what ever you downloaded or updated had all these add-ons attached to them. Adobe and Java updates are notorious for doing that. If you looked at it you would see the check boxes telling you that “XYZ” is going to get installed. See my blog “How’d That Get There?” That blog explains it to you.

I always ask people if they would leave their front door open with their bank book and pin number on the table next to their jewelry box. Most of the time they look at me like I’m crazy because they would never do that but what people don’t understand is that is exactly what you are doing when you get infected with Malware. Once you are infected criminals can gain access to your bank accounts, credit cards and your personal information. And all you did was open an email or click on a web link! If your a business, well just look at Sony Pictures.

All this can be avoided if YOU and ONLY YOU would pay attention and really think before you click!

Computer & PC Help

Is that email REAL or FAKE – How to Tell20 Jul

I guess you could say I’m in my own private war against spam and other phony emails. In an attempt to “even the playing field” here are some tips to determine if an email is real or fake.
Sometimes a fake email can come from an email address you recognize but the email,  it looks funny to you. What you need to do first and always before you click on any link or open any attachment is LOOK AT IT!   Examine the email – most people do not do this they simply assume that because the sender is someone they know its fine. Well it’s not fine! There is something called spoofing – spoofing means simply using a real name with a different email address attached to it, so for example – my email address is Ilene@awtcs.com. Most likely when you get that email it will just say Ilene and you will not know if it’s really me.  If the mail was spoofed it would say Ilene except the email address would be something completely different from @awtcs.com. Same with banks it can come in for example as Citibank, or Bank of America or even IRS, USPS or FedEx… You will not know unless you look at the email and read the actual address. This is how ALL viruses, hacking, phishing etc. occurs. You get an email you think it’s ok,  you click on the link and open that file. It takes 2 seconds and you’re infected. I’ve had people get infected time and time again – the worst of it all is the Crypto-Ransom virus which mainly affects businesses – this doesn’t mean an average home user can’t get infected – it means for now these people are targeting businesses. These emails come in the guise of Fed-ex or UPS emails telling the user they have a package arriving. The user thinking that they may have a package arriving and wants to check on that status,  clicks on that attachment and every document, every database and every spreadsheet gets encrypted and it is basically locked unless you pay within 24 hours. There is no cure and no way around it. All data everywhere in the business is gone! And unless you have full backups of everything you will never see it again. So basically you can be out of business. Just because you pay doesn’t mean you will get your data back and by paying you are only encouraging the offenders to continue to do it.  To avoid this all you would need to do is look at the email address and it will tell you who it really came from.  Once you know that you can just delete it and save yourself all that aggravation.
So what to do to identify an email? Well there’s something called headers – if you identify the headers you will be able to see the real email address. So for those of you using programs like Outlook or Outlook Express or windows live there are easy ways to view these headers. Here are some examples:

For Yahoo mail do the following: Go to the email and just open it. Look at the tool bar on the top it will say “More” pull the arrow down until you see View Full Header

Yahoo E-Mail Headers

Click on View Full Header this screen will show up… you need to keep scrolling down until you see the email address.  I’ve highlighted it in Blue so you can see it.  This one is a real address See 2nd example… If is wasn’t real it could say something like xysf@hotmail.com or gmail.com or even aol.com anything but from where the mail is supposed to be from.

yahoo header 1yahoo header 2

 

For outlook it’s a little different… there’s a help associated with outlook 2010 and 2007 which will show you how to view headers. Here’s a good link for that. (you will need to copy and paste this in your browser)
http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/outlook-help/view-e-mail-message-headers-HA001230300.aspx
Or within the program of outlook go to help and look up display headers – this will show you how.

 

This is Windows Live Mail 2011 for people with Windows 7. If you hover the mouse over the email address it will pop up like this..

windows live example

Same with Windows 8.1 if you use the mail program just click on the address and it will show you the senders address

photo

Any program you use you can always see the senders return address by viewing the headers. This will tell you who exactly is sending you the mail. So once again just because you know that email address it still could be spoofed – look at the mail before you decide to just click on that attachment or link in that mail. Take any of the steps I’ve mentioned in this blog, you should be able to detect if that mail is real or not and this will help immensely in determining if you should trash or open the mail.   Just look at the senders return address and it will let know exactly where that email originated from.
Remember just because you open the email doesn’t mean an automatic infection – the only way you’ll get infected is if you click on a link embedded within that mail or if you click on the attachment in the mail.

Lastly I’ll direct you to this article which explains it how to view headers in all email and web-mail programs.

http://oithelp.nd.edu/email-and-calendaring/full-headers/

Computer & PC Help

NETWORK SECURITY AT HOME05 Jan

Did you know that you can see your wireless security code by simply checking a box on your Windows 7 and 8 laptop or tablet? If you go to your wireless network settings, click on security and check the box “Show Characters” this will show your Network Security Key (Code) which will allow anyone who can see this to connect to your network. So let’s say you have a neighbor or a guest and you give them the code. If they live in the vicinity of you wireless they will be able to connect anytime time they want and anyone they give the code to can connect to you network too.

What can you do? Well your router will allow you to add an extra layer of security by Mac Address filtering. What is this? Well first what is a Mac Address? A Mac Address a unique address that is given to you network card. In theory no two address are the same. It is made of letters and numbers. If you go to your command prompt on your PC you can see it by typing “ipconfig /all”. The mac address will be the “Physical Address” as listed below. Now depending on how many network cards your PC has will determine how many Mac Addresses (Physical Addresses) you have. So if you have a network that needs a network cable, that too will have a physical address. If you look at my example you will see it says Wireless Lan Adapter Wireless Network Connection..

The wired Network Card will look like this:

This one says Ethernet adapter Local Area Connection. As you can see this too has a Mac Address (Physical Address) that is different from the Wireless Network adapter.

Now, if you want to Filter the Mac Address you will need to get into your Router. My in my example, I have U-Verse the Mac address filtering looks like this.

If I click on Edit Block/Allowed Device List I can add the devices I want to allow. It’s good to note that if you enable this you will need to add EVERY Device no matter what it is, a wireless phone, computer, tablet, even anything wired – regardless of what the device is, if it’s going to connect to you network, you will need to ascertain the Mac Address/Physical address of the network card that will be connecting to you network and add it to your router.  On my router it has a place for allowed devices.  So for example if you have a PC that is both wired and wireless if you want it to connect to you network you will need to add both the Ethernet (wired) Adapter and Wireless Mac Address/Physical Address to you router.  On my device it looks like this: (in order to set this up for the first time I had to check the box “Enable Mac Filtering”).

Again, if you look at this example I have all the MAC Address of my Allowed devices to my network. This includes any and all devices that will connect. So if you have a TV or Cable Boxes that connect to you network you will need to add them too. In my case I have a Rescan for Devices button which I can use to view the Mac Address should I decide to add them to my network. Should I decide to block a device I can add that too. So say for example I have a listed device that I decide I don’t want to access my network, I can use the “>>” button to move it to the Blocked Devices side or I can simply delete it from my allowed list. There is also a place that I can just add the MAC Address or Physical Address manually too. So if I already know the Mac Address of Physical Address of the device, I can just add it.

Now depending upon what router you have will depend upon where this setting is. Yes this is advanced however this adds another layer of security to you network.

Don’t forget to hit the save button so that your setting will be saved.

Once last thing you can to to protect your network is to disable the broadcast of you SSID or you network. What this mean is when you look to connect to your network you see all those networks listed

All of these networks are broadcasting. If pull down the menu next to SSID Broadcast and disable it (again this is how it works on my router – on yours it may be different), it will not broadcast and no one will be able to see it. However, If you do this then you must manually set up all connections to your wireless network.

You also MUST make sure that the box “connect even if the network is not broadcasting its name (SSID)” is checked – this will allow the wireless card to connect no matter what. Most of the time this is a default setting but you should check this to make sure  – See below.

If you want to make sure you network is most secure follow these steps.   Most importantly this will deter people from hacking in to your network because it will make it harder to connect to your network.  On what can be considered the downside, you will ALWAYS need to add any and all devices to your router MANUALLY.  But you will control who connects to you network and this will help keep your information a little safer.  This is a bit advanced so if you wish to do this and you aren’t sure consult your IT professional.  Good Luck.

Computer & PC Help

HOLIDAY TIME – IT’S RIP OFF TIME TOO!15 Nov

Well it’s that time of the year again when the cyber crooks are looking to get you! So once again I’ve decided to publish my tips and give some information….

First of all to any of my followers – Happy Holiday’s…

Yes its holiday time again and those “nasty” emails are upon us once again.  Here’s my rule of thumb.  If you don’t know the sender be careful because you never know what’s going to happen when you open that email and click on that link.  They say “curiosity killed the cat” well I say “curiosity can rob you blind”

So let’s review… Rule of thumb the IRS, FBI, CIA, Microsoft, UPS, Fed EX, USPS, your bank,  your mortgage company, any other government agency, etc. WILL NEVER, NEVER send you email ASKING FOR ANY PERSONAL INFORMATION!!!!    Should you receive any of this type of mail DELETE IT!  This is called phishing (pronounced fishing ) email.  They are trying to obtain your personal information in order to steal from you.   If you are not expecting a package then why would you get an email from the USPS, FED EX, or UPS?  Well as I said before “curiosity killed the cat and can rob you blind”.  These people are hoping that you allow them to obtain your personal information by clicking on that attachment in that email or clicking on that link because you are curious enough to find out what that email is for.  If UPS, Fed EX or USPS does happen to email you it will NOT ask you for information, it will only state that the package is on the way, and give you a link to track it.  But as I said, if you didn’t order anything, then you should not be receiving and email about it.

Quick story:  I had a client call me up she received one of those email from UPS.  She was expecting a package – but as I said UPS doesn’t send you emails with a link.  When they send email for a package they address it to you and there is their logo on it with the package information.  They just don’t say click on this link and install this.  She clicked the link and suddenly they couldn’t open any of their documents, spreadsheets, pdf’s or database files.  This was and is a disaster for them.  This is a “new” and improved way to steal your money it’s called the Crypto Ransom Virus.  I spoke about this nasty addition to ripping you off on my Facebook page. This one pops up a message telling you that your files have been encrypted and unless you pay you can’t get them back!  Well even if you do pay it’s not a guarantee you’ll get your files unencrypted.  What does encrypted files mean?  Well in a word it makes them unreadable.    And what’s so interesting about this one is it not only encrypts your files on your PC but it encrypts anything else that’s attached to your PC.  So for example say you’re working for a big company and you have a mapped drive to store files on a server if you happen upon this virus you’ve not only infected your computer but the entire computer network you’re attached to.  The only way to get the information back is to have a backup.  Most businesses do but for you home users not so much.  There is no “cure” for this.  You can get rid of the virus but you can’t decrypt the files so basically anything you have is useless.  This particular user didn’t think, and didn’t look at what she was doing.  Within a second of clicking on this link from this phony email she totally destroyed everything on this PC and for this record this was a small business with no backups.   Everything is gone.

My advice is either

a) Get yourself an external drive that you can simply plug into your USB port of your laptop and store whatever you can’t afford to lose on that.  Keep it safe and only plug it in when you are updating it.  So for example, I have one such device I keep pictures and my music on there and anything else I can’t afford to lose. I only attach this to my PC when I’m going to copy more information to it.

B) You can invest some money and use one of those on line backup places.  The choice is  yours. But either way that should help you out.

 

Check out my Facebook page for more details on the crypto ransom virus.

 

This one is always fun… No, you don’t have a cousin, aunt, uncle or for that matter any relative in Sudan, Nigeria, or any other country that is contacting you by email because you just inherited a million plus dollars.  What’s so interesting about this is that you have to pay for your inheritance – really?  And you didn’t win the lottery overseas either especially because you didn’t play!  Also, Publishers’ Clearing House doesn’t email you to tell you that you’ve won they show up. And you don’t have to fill out a form on line that gives your personal information or pay any money to receive your prize.

Here’s on I just received in my email about a charity – nice touch.

From: “Gillian And Adrian Bayford” <adrian@msn.com>
Date: November 14, 2013 at 4:08:36 AM EST
To: Recipients <adrian@msn.com>
Subject: Christmas Donation Funds
Reply-To: bayford17@rogers.com

Send Name, Country,Age,Occupation and Phone number. My wife and i are donating 1,500,000British Pounds to Five people each, as part of our charity donation this month, for details see our interview http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-19254228

 

I have no doubt this may be a real story, but they are asking me to send them my information?  That’s not right.  Usually if you want to donate money to a charity you can do it over the web and it’s on a secure website (something secure would be https://… And a lock would appear at the bottom of the screen) So, in this case they are going to just give money to five people – any five people who happen to send the required information?  I doubt that. They just need my name, Country, Age and Occupation along with my phone number? They are going to call me?  Since when do I need to send any charity my information, I just give them a check and that’s that.  And look at the email. My wife and i?  They can’t even spell and no space between the 1,500,000 and British?  Grammar is wrong.  That’s a red flag too.  But I have no doubt people see stuff like this and click the link and give the information out.  I’m sure isn’t the last piece of mail like this that will show up in my in box this holiday season.

You can’t stop this stuff from coming in but you can ignore it by deleting it immediately.  Also, it’s very important to have some type for Virus Protection on your PC, laptop even tablet, anything that you receive and open email on or surf the web.  And yes, a Mac can get a virus too.  See my blog on virus protection vs. Internet Security – there is a difference.

Anything including your phone is a vessel for you to be ripped off. You need to be aware of what you are reading, opening and even clicking on when you’re browsing the internet. KNOW what you’re downloading, and know what you are saying yes to.  I have so many people call me up and tell me that their home page got changed and they don’t know how it happened.  My first question to them is “what did you install”?  So many times I update my “flash, Java, etc.” these are program that you do need, and there’s a check box that says install “Chrome, AVG, some toolbar, change your home page”, etc.  If you don’t uncheck this box it installs.  Again awareness of what you are doing on line is the key!

So my advice to you all this Holiday Season is PAY ATTENTION to what you’re doing on the internet and delete those unknown emails.

 

HAPPY  HOLIDAYS everyone!

Computer & PC Help

AN EXPENSIVE LESSON – LISTEN TO YOUR IT PROFESSIONAL05 May

I want to relay an incident that happened to me this week; the moral of this story is know your IT professional, trust your IT professional and lastly and most importantly, LISTEN to what they tell you especially when it comes to purchases.

I take care of many different clients in many different situations.  This particular client is a business client that I take care of – a few weeks ago the client told me that when the power goes out, the server shuts down.  I immediately said you need to purchase a battery backup – let me know and I’ll come by and install it.  I left it at that.  Now in all honestly, I probably should have been more aggressive in making sure this client did just that but I can’t really do that because I do have a lot going on so I do rely on my clients to do what I ask, especially when it comes to purchases.   Now also please note that I did not tell them I’d buy it because when it comes to ordering little things like that I feel that the client can take that responsibility.  Either the client will order it on line after I tell them what to buy, or just go pick it up at a local store.

I’ve said time and time again, a $50.00 battery can say you thousands of dollars!  Well, I’m sure by now you know where this is going so here’s what happened.  We had a bad storm here one day.  It was thunder, lighting, and much rain.  About 2 pm my phone rings and it was this particular client,  I answered the phone and this voice that sounded a bit panicked told me that there was a flashing amber light on the server and they couldn’t get a picture on the machine.  I asked what happened and they told me that the power blinked and the server rebooted and never came back.  I immediately when into concerned mode but thought maybe there was an issue with the monitor, so I asked questions, trying to troubleshoot on the phone and then I finally told them to change the monitor.  Nothing worked.  I told them to unplug the server press and hold the power button then to plug in back in and try to turn it on.  That didn’t work either.  I told this client I’d be there as soon as I can.  In the meantime, I asked the client to see if they had a backup of their information.  This particular client uses one company for on-line backups – which I’m not a fan of but this client insisted on this service.  I prefer the old fashioned way either tape backup or some type of external drive either in place of an on line company or in addition to an on line company.  This client called the on-line backup company and they did not have the information they needed backed up.  So now this situation is critical – this company (my client) is out of business without that information.

I arrived on site shortly after that.  I looked at this server and tried a few things and nothing worked.  I concluded that the server took a hit and the mother board was fried. Meaning in English the server isn’t coming back up.  Of course the server was out of warranty so I the manufacturer wouldn’t even let me extend the warranty.   So now I’m thinking I hope the disks are ok. I the middle of this craziness, the client informs me that she’s calling someone else because two heads are better than one and maybe the two of us can come up with something.  I’m thinking wow you don’t trust me…  So now I’m pulling out the drives and trying to explain to the client that they need to be prepared, they have no backups and they may have lost all the data if the disks are fried too. That I need to verify the integrity of these disks before I can say anymore.    The client explains to me that this guy is also a network guy and he can help and that he’s bring something to attach to the drive so we can read them.  I’m thinking ok. So in walks this guy he has an external drive reader. I quickly attach this to one of the machines to read the drives.  There were two drives – they were mirrored.  I look at the 1st drive I get in and then it dies!  I can’t read it.  This guy chimes in and say let me try.  He takes the drive and says “sometimes when you shake them you can read them” I’m thinking not a good idea you’re going to make it worse.  Well about 20 minutes later this guy is switching back and forth between the drives to try and read them – nothings working he states these drives are dead you are going to need to take them to a company to get your data off.  Now I’m thinking can’t be – I tell the client please just give me time and let me take the drives and look at them, I have tools.  The client is freaking at this point and screaming because they want this immediately.  I’m trying to explain that this is not an immediate fix and I can’t possibly get a server in here before Monday – this was Thursday.  The client didn’t understand that you just can’t buy a server ready to go off the shelf. I’m trying to explain that this isn’t an easy solution and that I need some time to assess the drives.  The other tech is insisting that the drives are dead – he’s still shaking them and getting no where.  Again I’m pleading with the client please just give me time.  Let me look at the drives and I’ll call you tomorrow and let you know.  The client is insisting that that’s not good enough and in the morning she’s taking the drive to this guy’s friend who gets data off drives.  I’m like please just let me take the drive to work before you do that and let me see what I can do before you do that.  The client is still freaking – I take one drive and leave.

Next morning I take the drive with me – the client has the other drive.  About 8:00 the client calls me to tell me that she dropped off the drive to this place that the other tech told her to go to and she paid $300.00 for them to “push” her to the front and diagnose the drive to first decide if  they can retrieve the data.  I’m truly livid at this point because all I wanted was the chance to look at this before this client spent the money.  The client insisted I didn’t understand her situation – I tried to explain I was fully aware of her situation and that if we couldn’t get this data that they were going to have to start over and they may be out of business.  All I kept saying was please just give me a chance but if you feel more comfortable with the other tech taking the lead on this, I will bow out. The client wouldn’t listen.

So with this in mind I just could have let it go, the client dropped the drive off at the company to recover it from the drive – I realize they could do it but the cost was probably going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $1500.00 – $2000.00 and the client still had to purchase a server too.

So I had the drive with me and I have something called a cradle which I slipped the drive into – I did it on a windows 7 machine, the client is still running XP.  And low and behold I was able to read the drive!  I quickly copied the information off and burned it to a CD.  I called the client – The client still didn’t believe me!  I kept saying I got into the drive and I copied what you needed.  Please come here and pick up the disk. The client came to me and asked how come I was able to do that and the other tech couldn’t.  My answer was I have better tools and I left it at that. She took the disk with the data.  Meanwhile for her $300.00 the company didn’t even call yet.  In just a few hours I was able to get the information back.  I didn’t know if the drives were fried – I thought that maybe windows XP just couldn’t read the drives or perhaps something was wrong with the equipment the other tech was using. I didn’t know. But I knew I at least had to try. The client did get the information back and was back up and running by that afternoon on a temporary PC. The client purchased an external drive for backups too and is going to purchase a battery backup for the new server.  We did order a server which should be there in about 10 days.

As a service profession I cannot and will not give you answers to something I don’t know the answers too myself.  I cannot raise your expectations without knowing what the outcome will be – that would be totally irresponsible of me. My client was desperately trying to get me to tell her that everything was going to be fine and that I was going to be able to fix the situation.  I can never tell you that I can get your data, repair your machine, etc. without knowing what the outcome will be. In this case I kept telling the client please just give me time – the client wouldn’t listen because she though I meant I wasn’t going to do anything before Monday.  I felt it necessary to prepare the client for the possibility of total disaster because that possibility did exist.  This client didn’t listen to my recommendations and there was nothing I could do about it.  They didn’t get the critical battery backup, they stopped doing the backups the way I had it set up because they couldn’t be bothered changing tapes and they took matters into their own hands. They jumped the gun and took the drive to a restoration company that didn’t even bother to get back to them!  So in all reality this client would still have been down if I didn’t do what I did!  I’m not suggesting that, taking the disk to such a company was a bad idea, they may have had to do that but this client should have let me do my job first which meant just waiting a little longer.

So moral of this story is if you think the person you hire to do your IT job is not trust worthy find someone who you trust. 

YOUR BUSINESS IS ONLY AS GOOD AS YOUR LAST BACKUP! Remember that rule for everything you do.  If your equipment dies it’s replaceable and it’s not an instant fix either but if you have a backup at least you KNOW you can restore it and you’re not out of business.  Lastly INVEST THE MONEY on the battery backup NOT a surge protector –  it will save your equipment from  taking a hit during a power surge or failure.  Equipment gets old and it WILL need to be replaced, better to do this on your terms and not as an emergency!

Computer & PC Help

MY IMPRESSIONS OF WINDOWS 823 Apr

I had the chance to try out Windows 8 not on Surface but on a Dell Latitude Tablet.  I have to say it was an experience.  There are things I liked about it and things I don’t.  To be fair, this was used in a business setting so it was Windows Pro 8 not RT.  If you are using this for business purposes, get ready to struggle.  No matter what I did, I couldn’t get it on my wireless network at work. That was because we don’t broadcast SSIDs, don’t get me wrong, it connected to my guest network without a problem and for you home users it will probably not take much effort to connect it your home wireless.  But in order for me to connect it to my wireless network I had to first hook it up to a port replicator and hard wire it to the network.  For those of you who don’t know what a port replicator is, it’s simply a cradle that attaches to the tablet so you can add use a cable to connect to your network along with, keyboard and mouse. I never did connect the keyboard and mouse because I was trying to use the tablet only. So once I got it connect to my network then I was able to get it on my domain.  I mostly used the desktop part because for my purposes that’s what was required.  In our business setting the tiles aren’t practical.  I had to install Office on it and once I got it on the network I was able to do that via a share but I couldn’t get it to recognize and external CD drive.  Next problem I encountered was the fact that you can’t expand some things.  In other words you can’t make them bigger, for example, the TCP/IP properties aren’t expandable, neither are any of the setting in the control panel, or for adding the printer.  This makes it a little difficult to use the tablet with your finger, so I suggest if you are going to use this for business, you should get the stylus (the pen) so you have better control over the “little” things.  Also in terms of the keyboard, it doesn’t automatically pop up, you have to hit the keyboard icon, I think that should be changed.  Next, it took me a while to figure out how to add things to the desktop and I never could figure out how to customize the tiles – adding my own shortcuts to the tiles.

 

It comes with IE 10, don’t get me wrong that’s not a bad thing, unless your company can’t really use IE 10, in my case we are still using IE 8 and you can’t uninstall IE 10 nor can you change the home page either.  I tried, but I never figured that out either. I do think I understand why you can’t change the home page in IE10 or down grade it to 9 or 8 – I think this is because of the tiles update from the home page and the touch screen isn’t compatible with IE 9 or 8, but I could be wrong about that.   If you are on a network and you have GPO’s (group policy objects) it doesn’t process all of them, granted we are still using Server 2003 so it maybe better with 2008 or 2012 server – I don’t know. I never tried to install Firefox or Google Chrome and frankly I don’t know if they would work, I would hope they would.

 

I truly loved the tiles and for a home user it’s awesome.  You see everything and it updates instantly, for example it shows the news, Facebook, email etc. And that I really liked about it.  It’s really easy to use and it’s a nice experience. You just look at the tiles and it’s instant, that’s a nice feature, because you don’t even have to open the app. it shows you a preview before you open it.

 

In my opinion, Microsoft did a good job with the tiles. The desktop part, to me is Windows 7 on steroids, basically it looks the same but there’s no start button.  You have to swipe the sides to get to the controls, the control panel or anything else you need to do, it took me a while to figure out how to add shortcuts to the desktop too. Once you get used to it it’s not so bad.  I happy to say that I was even able to install printers without any problems too. It comes with Microsoft security 2012  for virus protection, I couldn’t install the virus protection software we use because it wasn’t compatible.  I’m not sure what virus protection you can install on it in case you choose not to use Microsoft’s product.

 

So depending upon your needs, this could be a great toy.  If you’re a techie well it’s perfect because you can use it like a desktop PC.  You can install any VPN client and have access to your office. It even has RDP (remote desktop connection)  Imagine you’re on call and your phone rings.  You don’t have to rush home, just pull out that tablet connect to the internet and you’re good to go!

 

I will say this, I did not get to check out any apps or install anything that didn’t actually come with it so for the home user I didn’t get to “play” that much so I can’t compare it to apple IPad, if that’s what you’re waiting for.  But in general my impression of this is it’s pretty nice and I would recommend it if you want to have something that serves duel purposes.

 

Lastly, I haven’t seen a 64 bit version yet and that’s what I’m waiting on a 64 bit tablet version.  If and when that comes out I think that will be my toy.  So if you are thinking about purchasing this go for it, it’s a nice toy.

Computer & PC Help

Internet Security and Virus Protection12 Jan

I get many questions on this subject so I decided to write about this for you.  I get questions like “Am I protected?” “Does my virus protection do the right job?”, “Is my protection enough? “And “Do I have the “right” virus protection?”

Basically all virus protection products do the same thing.  That is, to protect you from viruses and spyware.  The basic difference in the products is how much they ‘tax’ your CPU or simply how much they slow you down.  As you all know my preference is Vipre.  I push the product because it doesn’t slow you down and it doesn’t add time to your already long boot up time.  You virus protection usually loads up when you boot up and then runs a scan and depending upon the brand of virus protection will determine how fast or slow this process takes.  You can always change the setting of your virus protection not to scan on start-up but if you do that just remember to at least run a scan once a week.  Basically your virus protection is only as good as its last update – so update it often, it will tell you when it’s out of date.  Just remember the virus protection plays catch up with the viruses; and sometimes they are ahead of the “game”, but most of the time they react.  Still, it’s important to have virus protection.

Then we have the Internet Security products again basically they all do the same thing.  Do you need such a product?  Well that’s purely a personal preference.  That too has its issues. These products with the built in firewalls can also cause you issues if you don’t understand how to use them.  Basically what a firewall does is block your internet access and unless you “allow” the site it will not let you get to that particular site.  Will that stop you from getting a virus or downloading spyware, in a word NO.

I prefer a free product called WOT – Web of Trust.  This is available for Firefox, Internet Explorer and Google Chrome.  You have to download this http://www.mywot.com.  What this product does is warn you if a site isn’t trust worthy.  Then it’s up to you to decide if you still want to visit that site.  Is it full-proof? Probably not but it allow you to be aware of what you are visiting on the web.  It’s easy to set up and cost nothing to install.  It will not slow you down either. I recommend it to all my clients.

Your best protection from a virus, unwanted downloads, spyware, etc., is YOU.  You need to be aware of what you are doing on the internet and what emails you are opening.  Think of it like this.  Would you allow someone into your home without asking who it is first when they ring your bell?  Probably not.   Would you allow a repair person to enter you home to repair something if you didn’t call them first?  I doubt it.  So why would you open email from someone you don’t know?  Or open an email that says you are expecting something when you didn’t even order anything?  For example, why open an email from FedEx, Ups even the post office, if you’re not expecting something? Besides these places will NEVER send you mail with attachments to open. They many send you a link with a tracking number.  Also, look at the senders name and address, that will tell you if it’s real or not. Another clue is misspelled words, you usually don’t receive email with misspelled words. Remember, the IRS, Microsoft or even your bank will NEVER send you email asking you to verify who you are.  Why have you won a lottery that you didn’t even enter?  I guess it’s the old saying “curiosity killed the cat” or in this case “curiosity ripped you off”

Your awareness is most important when surfing the internet too.  If something starts to download that you don’t want simply close your browser (IE, Firefox or Chrome) before it starts installing.  READ everything you are clicking on; don’t say yes to something if you don’t know what you are saying yes to.  Would you sign a document without reading it first?  Same rules apply on the net.  Is it safe to buy things on the internet or even do my banking?  Yes it is, but again be aware of what you are doing.  A secure site will appear as https and usually have a lock on the bottom right hand corner of the screen.  If the site isn’t secure, think twice before you buy.  You’ll see the lock when you go to the check out.  Most, if not all banks are secure sites so basically you are safe to do your banking and pay your bills.  BUT remember if your bank site doesn’t look right, it’s probably not right. That’s being aware.

Basically you are your best protection from spyware, virus’s and unwanted downloads.  Often I find stuff on machines and the users ask me, “How did that get there”?  Well basically you downloaded something because you weren’t paying attention to what you were doing.  Users always give me the same answer; “No I didn’t” Well my answer should be is well if you didn’t then someone did because it got installed.  But I just explain the situation and tell them to just be more aware and then I remove it.  How many times have you suddenly realized that your Internet Home Page (the first thing that appears when you open your browser – IE, Firefox or Chrome) has changed? Well this happened because you downloaded something and it changed your home page because you allowed it to do so.  Sometimes things you install from the internet without you even realizing it.  Java, for example will  try to install a tool bar for your browser,  unless you say no or uncheck that box. – See my older blog “How’d that get there?”

So to sum this all up basically install some type of internet virus protection on your PC.  Do you need to install internet security?  Up to you, but basically you should be a novice computer user to get the best out of that product.  What product should you buy?  Again, a personal preference, basically they are all the same and do the same thing.  It’s just a matter of how it slows down your PC.  I recommend Vipre but again it’s up to you. If you want to download a free trial of viper you can do so on my site.  www.awtcs.com Try it and see if you like it – that’s how you decide. Just because a computer manufacturer sells a virus protection with its package doesn’t mean you have to purchase it, you can opt out and buy your own.  But again you are your best protection against viruses and spyware – being aware of what you do on the net is half the battle.  Lastly and to me most important is to download and install WOT (Web of Trust).  It’s a free tool that will make you aware of “bad” internet sites and it will help you to avoid the dreaded viruses and malware.

Hopefully I’ve made you think a little and you will be more aware of what you are doing on the net.  Happy Surfing everyone.

Computer & PC Help

“HELP MY COMPUTER IS REALLY RUNNING SLOW”05 Feb

Recently, I had a friend call me up and complain about computer slowness. He said his machine was just crawling along. He told me it was ok but then it crashed and a friend of his fixed it. Ever since then it was crawling along. I asked him some general question about what I though could affect the speed of the computer. I asked him how much memory he had, how much hard drive space and how old his computer was, along with what brand of computer he had and what operating system he was using (Operating System meaning Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7). All of this will affect speed. Not enough memory will slow your machine down, not enough hard drive space will also affect your speed and of course the age of your computer will affect speed too. The older the machine the more “worn” it becomes and the slower it gets. It’s a good idea to replace your machine at least every 5 years. I do recommend a brand to my clients I prefer based upon my experiences with customer service, replacement parts and longevity of the machine.
Upon my investigation I found that my friend’s computer indeed had enough memory, and enough hard drive space but the machine was a bit old. He was also using Windows XP. So I decided to investigate a little further.
I found the following: He was running Symantec Endpoint Protection – which will somewhat slow the machine but it’s a decent virus protection program so I didn’t believe that was his issue. The fact of the matter is depending upon what virus product you are running will affect the speed of your machine depending upon how it works. You all know by now I recommend “Viper” because it’s not evasive and doesn’t slow your machine – it does the job. So I dove a little deeper and found he was running Spy Bot, Malware Bytes, AOL and AOL virus protection. This to me was a big red flag. You do not need to run multiple virus/malware programs. That’s overkill. Everything scanning at once no wonder why his machine was so slow. If you find it necessary to run all those items then perhaps your virus protection isn’t doing the job. In this case I don’t believe that was the issue – If you use tools like Malware Bytes to remove viruses/spyware remember to uninstall them. Unless you have no protection at all and you wish to use one of them. In addition to that he had AOL and AOL virus protection installed too. I asked him if he used AOL to which he replied he just had mail. I explained that is wasn’t necessary to have the entire program installed and that he could just go to the website and get his mail.
So I tried to remove the “offending” programs, but because all these other programs (Spybot, Maleware Bytes and AOL virus protection) were using up all his computer resources by scanning the machine all at the same time I couldn’t remove them. When I tried to get into Add/Remove programs to uninstall them the machine just “hung” up and I couldn’t do a thing. You all know what I mean. You start trying to move your mouse to click on something and nothing! So I booted the machine into Safe Mode. Safe Mode is a way you can diagnose and fix issues with a minimum amount of background programs running and makes it easier to get around. Upon booting up into Safe Mode, ( you achieve this by tapping the F8 key when the machine boots up) I was able to get into add/remove programs and uninstall the “offending” programs.
My friend remarked to me “that’s it” I say yes just reboot and let’s see what happens. When the machine came back up my friend remarked WOW! I then checked a few more things – I installed WOT (Web Of Trust) http://www.mywot.com/en/download and told him that this would help him to discover dangerous websites and help protect him again malware and viruses. I show him how to use it too. He was happy.
My tips are this…

  • Make sure you have enough memory in your machine. What’s enough memory? Well that depends upon what your running on the machine. As a general rule I like to have at least 2 gigs of memory for windows XP and 4 – 6 gigs of memory for Windows Vista and for Windows 7. You may not think it makes a difference but it does. Ask anyone who’s had a slow machine what happens when they get a memory upgrade
  • Make sure you have enough hard drive space. Too often I see people running machines with less than 1 gig of hard drive space. They can’t save very much and they can’t update their machine. When you download windows updates it does take up hard drive space. Think of it like this. You have a box which will only fit 12 cans in the box but you are trying to shove 14 cans in this box and you can’t close the box. The operating system needs room to operate. At a minimum you should have 2 gigs of space free at all times. If this means you need to purchase an external drive and move your music and pictures off, I recommend you do so.
  • Computer Age. Yes it makes a difference. If your machine is over 5 years old you need to purchase a new one. Over time things wear out, and generally the heat from the machine will wear out the parts. Besides the technology is constantly changing and as the operating systems get updated they need more and more resources from the machine. In terms of brands I recommend that you do your homework. Ask friends what they are using and how they like it. How they like the customer service of the company. Ask your PC professional what he or she thinks and what they recommend too. A salesperson in a store or on line wants to sell what they have so make sure you’re educated.
  • Look at what you have installed on your machine. In this case my friend has 3 programs scanning his machine and it was using up all his resources. I recommend going into add/remove programs and looking at what you have installed. Uninstall anything you KNOW you do not use. DO NOT uninstall anything you don’t know. If you’re not sure ask your PC Professional to help.

As I said my friend was over joyed his machine was running again with a good amount of speed. I was happy he was happy. Another job well done and another satisfied customer! See my Facebook page to see what he said.

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