Category Archives: IT Support

Information Technology for small businesses and individuals.

What is Malware?

malwareI run my Malware and Virus protection programs once a week and this was the first week in several where nothing was found – and I’m VERY careful when I’m browsing and opening emails. Have YOU run your protection programs lately? You don’t have to spend a ton of money for good protection. Our favorite Malware program is a free download: MalwareBytes. Google it and download it if you don’t have Malware protection. (Be sure to update it when it says it is out of date.)

What is Malware?

Malware is short for malicious software. It is a general term used to describe all of the viruses, worms, spyware, and pretty much anything that is specifically designed to cause harm to your PC or steal your information.

Virus

A virus is a program that copies itself and infects a PC, spreading from one file to another, and then from one PC to another when files are copied or shared. Most viruses attach themselves to executable (.exe) files, but some are a bit more hidden in MS Office macros, scripts and other files. Whether the virus is intended to delete or corrupt files or render your PC completely inoperable, the basic design is to generally cause havoc and break stuff. They usually arrive in your email, so look for suspicious file extensions: a file that has a double extension is HIGHLY suspicious, like .mp3.exe or .pdf.exe

Spyware

Spyware steals your information. It can capture your logins, passwords and credit card information through keylogging. It can also take over your browser and add toolbars, but not always. Since the idea is to steal your information, spyware doesn’t call attention to itself. Things to look for: that extra toolbar that YOU didn’t install and your PC running slow.

Scareware

Scareware is relatively new. It appears to be an antivirus application that tells you that your PC is infected with hundreds of viruses that can only be cleaned up if you pay for the full licensed program. In most cases, you can’t uninstall them or even use your PC. If you find you’re a victim of this new virus, Google the name of the virus and find specific instructions on how to remove it. Most can be removed by reputable malware programs like MalwareBytes that we recommend.

Trojans

Trojans can allow remote control of your PC. It’s worst offense is sending out buckets of email/spam that can overwhelm servers and blacklist your email account. They usually attach themselves to pirated programs that download…beware of CHEAP imitations!

Worms

Worms send copies of itself to other PCs. It spreads very rapidly. The worst ones were sent as attachments to emails. They bog down networks and in some cases can cause your PC to repeatedly reboot itself.

Legitimate Antivirus Programs

WHAT? When is a legitimate antivirus program ever a problem??? When you have more than one! When you update your Adobe Flash Player, there is a prechecked box to download McAfee Security Scan. If you already have another antivirus or security program installed, they can fight with each other and REALLY slow down your PC. So if you use something else, remember to UNCHECK that box and all others like it as you update or download or sign up for anything. Take the time to read all of the offers on the screen before clicking OK.

Spring Cleaning for Your Technology: Part 4 of 4

Desserts is Stressed spelled backwardsThis week is the last in a four-part series about spring cleaning for your technology. Week one highlighted ways to organize your files. Week two was the clean and purge step. Last week was updating your protection software.

This week we’re looking at spring cleaning our work habits – specifically how to be more productive by reducing stress.

De-stress to help with your productivity.

Clean your mind with a periodic break. It is amazing what happens when you take a break from a project, and the more intense the project, the more productive the break is. It allows your mind to chug and churn behind the scenes and come up with creative ideas and solutions.

Here are some of my favorite ways to de-stress:

  • Take a walk during your lunch break, or shoot some hoops.
  • Work a jigsaw puzzle.
  • Meet a client for some personal time – no work discussion unless she brings it up.

I also found this great article worth sharing:  20 Scientifically-Backed Ways To De-Stress Right Now

I’ll just bet you have some favorites as well – what are they?

Spring Cleaning for Your Technology: Part 3 of 4

malware_protectionSo far, we’ve had three installments of a four-part series about spring cleaning for your technology. Week one highlighted ways to organize your files. Last week was the clean and purge step.

Now that you have your files organized, and cleaned up here’s the next step: Update your protection software and run it.

You should have both virus protection software and malware protection. They should both be updated regularly and run periodically. Usually paid versions do that automatically, the unpaid versions rely on you remembering – that’s ok, just create a reminder for yourself.

Review your passwords. You already know that it’s a bad idea to have the same password for everything. Even rotating through two or three is not a good idea. Here’s a great way to customize your password for each site you visit. Plan to change this each year. If you keep it written down on a piece of paper, it’s virtually impossible for a hacker to get it.

Choose a phrase — This one time at band camp

  • Change words to numbers — This 1 time at band camp
  • Pick first letter of each word or number — T1TABC
  • Add special characters — T1T@BC
  • Customize by adding a suffix for each site you register with — (example: for Amazon) T1T@BCAMA

If you’ve EVER panicked over misplacing your phone, be sure your home screen is password protected.

Spring Cleaning for Your Technology: Part 2 of 4

clean_purgeLast week I started a four-part series about spring cleaning for your technology. That article highlighted ways to organize your files.

Now that you have them organized, here’s the next step: Clean and Purge

After you have all your files organized, write them to a storage device to back them up. For backup options, read this blog. Then delete old or obsolete files from your PC.

Clean your keyboard, printer, fax and other equipment. Electronics are delicate, so you need to be careful what you use. Compressed air is great for keyboards and hard to reach areas.

Use a special cleaner and microfiber cloth for monitors and touch pad surfaces (phones & tablets). Don’t use your regular household cleaners for these surfaces.

When in doubt, look at your owner’s manual/instruction booklet or do an internet search for “the best way to clean [your device]”

Review your phone apps. Find the ones you no longer use and delete them. Arrange them on your phone in a way that makes sense. I have my games on one screen, my social media on one screen, my mail, calendar and contacts on one screen, etc.

Update software you use regularly, delete software you no longer use. Usually programs and apps send update messages when they are available. Most are free. If you find you need a paid upgrade, those can be tax write-offs; check with your tax professional.

What other suggestions do you have?

Important Windows XP Notification

computer_surpise
Don’t panic!

Microsoft will stop doing support on the Windows XP operating system in April, 2014.  This has been in the works for many years, and Microsoft has pushed the date back many times.  It looks like they’re serious this time.  Windows XP was released in 2001.  We want to inform you of this so it doesn’t come as a surprise.  This does not mean that XP will cease to work after that date, just that Microsoft will no longer provide updates or support. Please pass on this information to relatives or friends with Windows XP that may not see this.

It’s important to note that Windows XP will continue to operate just fine after the date when support stops.  Just keep your antivirus programs up to date and you’ll be protected.  As time goes on, though, new vulnerabilities in the operating system will be discovered and exploited, and your computer will become less safe.  You might want to consider replacing your computer with one having a newer operating system like Windows 7 or Windows 8.  As a benefit, you’ll get a new computer that will be much faster than the older one.

Windows XP end of life (as it is called) will be announced by an End of Support pop up dialog box sometime starting March 8.  See below:

windowsXPnotificationYou can get more information by  visiting the Microsoft blog post: http://blogs.windows.com/windows/b/windowsexperience/archive/2014/03/03/new-windows-xp-data-transfer-tool-and-end-of-support-notifications.aspx

Worst Passwords From 2013

password

SplashData, which makes password management applications, has released its 2013 list of the 25 worst passwords based on files containing millions of stolen passwords posted online in the last year. “123456″ now tops “password,” which normally leads the round-up.

 

Here’s the full list:

  1. 123456
  2. password
  3. 12345678
  4. qwerty
  5. abc123
  6. 123456789
  7. 111111
  8. 1234567
  9. iloveyou
  10. adobe123
  11. 123123
  12. admin
  13. 1234567890
  14. letmein
  15. photoshop
  16. 1234
  17. monkey
  18. shadow
  19. sunshine
  20. 12345
  21. password1
  22. princess
  23. azerty
  24. trustno1
  25. 000000
If you see YOUR password in this list, it is time to change it!
Choosing a Good Password
Make sure it is at least 8 characters long, contains special symbols or allowed punctuation and is not based on personal information commonly known about you, for example, a woman running a cat shelter should NOT use catlady as her password.
Write a simple sentence that is easy for you to remember to create your great password:
I have two kids: Jack & Jill becomes the password: Ih2k:JnJ (JackandJill is NOT a good password)

Something is Wrong With My Browser

ogden_nash_incompatible_quoteI’m sitting at my desk this morning on yet ANOTHER snow day due to sub-zero temperatures outside. Although the snow day is not a particular problem for me, the kids are grown and dealing with their own snow day issues, and I work at home. BUT I am having trouble reaching people this morning. So I did whatever any bored worker does – log in to Facebook. But it’s down!!! Then I got to thinking about our latest customer’s issue…her browser wasn’t displaying pages the way she expected. So, I thought I would give some helpful tips about that.

When a web designer is coding a site (composing the site in a language that the browser can interpret), they will use the most current version to make sure they are compliant with the newest standards. However, as time passes, the standards change. To rewrite the entire site to keep current is an undertaking most companies can not afford. That’s usually not a problem until a couple years pass.

When a website is old, it may contain coding that is no longer supported by the current browser. You may see pictures that are broken up or buttons that don’t work. If you are using the latest version of Internet Explorer (IE), you can switch to Compatibility Mode and see if that helps. Compatibility Mode makes the browser act like its older version, possibly the version the site was originally written under. To find Compatibility Mode, note the version of IE you are using and Google “Compatibility Mode for IE 10” (or whatever version you have). Same thing holds true for other browsers (Firefox, Safari, etc.)

If that doesn’t work, you may have something else wrong. First try to clear your cache and cookies. NOTE: clearing cache and cookies will remove stored logins to your sites where you’ve asked to be kept logged in. Again, Google “clear cache in [your current browser and version]” for instructions.

If that doesn’t work, you may have a virus of some kind. You should probably take it to your favorite techy…Strohm Consulting perhaps??

Oh, and if you want to know if your favorite website is down or not, try this website: www.downrightnow.com. They list several popular site and report known issues.

Do You Really Need to Backup Your Computer?

backupA lot of our IT business comes from people whose computers have crashed – or are about to (running slow, etc). Their first question to us is “Can you get my files?” Thankfully, the answer is quite often yes, but anytime we have to say no, it really hurts. It’s happened to us, so we know! We feel your pain!

Here is an outline of the ins and outs of backups.

How to decide if you need backups.
  • What information do you have on your computer?
  • How much of it can you afford to lose? Think about how long it’s going to take you to recreate all that information.
 What is likelihood that you’ll really need a backup?
  • Loss of data can be caused by a malicious virus that either creates an inability to access your data, or destroys the data entirely. Sometimes you will get symptoms like a noticeable drop in performance (really slow), but not always.
  • Loss can also be cause by the hard drive dying. When that happens you get no warning.
How often do you need to backup?
  • How much work do you want to risk losing?
    • If your computer usage is just personal, and you store everything in the cloud, backing up your settings once a month would be sufficient.
    • If you use your computer occasionally, like once a week, for volunteer committee work, back up those files once a month.
    • If you use your computer every day for volunteer committees, school projects, or working at home, back up those files once a week.
    • If you use your computer ALL day, every day, back up your files every day.
What kind of backup is for you?

Computer to computer: exchanging data files between two or more computers so that each computer has both its contents and the other computer’s.

  • Cost: no additional software or hardware is required. Expect to spend 1 to 2 hours setting it up
  • Pros:
    • It can be scheduled to run at specific times.
  • Cons:
    • Computers need to be networked together
    • Both computers need to be running
    • You need to remember to do it if it’s not scheduled
    • There is only a single set of data backed up and available for retrieval
    • It is not fire/disaster proof

Computer to External Drive: files are written to a “box” that sits on your desk

  • Cost: ~$100 for hardware & software, plus 1 to 2 hours setting it up
  • Pros:
    • Back up destination is always available (not reliant on another computer to be on).
    • Multiple sets of data are available
    • The device can be used as portable storage (think of a huge jump drive)
  • Cons:
    • Extra box on your desk
    • Not easy to share data with other users
    • It is not fire/disaster proof

Computer to Network: backing up contents of computer to a specific network storage device (NSD)

  • Cost: $100 for NSD + $50 for software + 2 hours to install
  • Pros:
    • NSD can also be used to easily share files
    • Backup destination is always available
    • Multiple sets of data are available
  • Cons: It is not fire/disaster proof

Computer to Internet: Backs up data or contents of computer to web-based storage

  • Cost:
    • Free “Personal” Account with a 2 gig limit (any number of computers)
    • $5/month/computer “Personal” Account with unlimited storage
    • $7.50/month/computer “Business” Account with 3 gig storage per computer (more available for additional cost). The business account includes installation, monitoring, and help retrieving data when it’s needed.
  • Pros:
    • It is offsite
    • It is disaster proof
    • It is secure
    • It is in the US
  • Cons: Retrieving files from a web-based service can be time consuming.