qworks

Backup, backup, backup – and backup

You’ve heard the phrase “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions,” right?

Well, a vulnerability first uncovered by the National Security Agency and then released by hackers on the internet is now being used in one of the most prolific cyberattacks ever around the globe.

It’s called WannaCry, and it’s brought computer systems from Russia to China to the UK and the US to their knees, locking people out of their data and demanding they pay a ransom or lose everything. So far, more than 200,000 computers in 150 countries have been affected, with victims including hospitals, banks, telecommunications companies and warehouses.

Should you be infected with any ransomware, you are faced with 2 choices: pay the ransom or restore from backups.

I know which I’d rather do.

To have a reliable backup system, your data must exist in 3 separate places:

1) The original data
2) An onsite backup
3) An offsite or “cloud” backup such as Carbonite

Ransomware is one of the most destructive pieces of malware in existence. This malware encrypts your files which then requires a “key” to unencrypt each encrypted file. This “key” can be purchased from the Ransomware installer and varies in cost typically from $300.00 to $5000.00. And there is no guarantee the “key” will work. Ransomware typically encrypts Word, Excel, and Quickbooks files, along with many others, and usually encrypts your onsite backup files as well but will not encrypt your offsite or “cloud” files. So, your onsite backup is for “normal” issues such as accidental file deletions, modifications, or corruption. An offsite backups primary purpose is protection from Ransomware or if you need to download a file when you are not in your office.

So what should you do to help prevent an attack?

1) Back up your computer and store the safety version in the cloud or on a drive that is not connected to your computer.

2) Use robust antivirus software.

3) Keep all the software on your computer up-to-date. Enable automatic updates.

4) Never open attachments in emails from someone you don’t know. And remember that any account can be compromised.

5) Enable the “Show file extensions” option in the Windows settings on your computer. This will make it much easier to spot potentially malicious files. Stay away from file extensions like “.exe,” “.vbs” and “.scr.”

6) If you find a problem, disconnect your machine immediately from the Internet or other network connections (such as home Wi-Fi).  Call me or any reliable computer repair professional.

 

Over time, your backup system may fail or require additions or modifications. Therefore, a procedure of checking on your backups on a regular basis should be instituted. This is something I can do for you if you like.

Contact me and I can examine your backup system, correct what’s wrong, or install a backup system if you don’t have one.

Keyboard and/or Barcode Scanner Not Working

4-day marathon of tracking down a major problem shared by 5 different clients.
USB input devices, keyboard and scanner, will not output data that has been input. In other words, keyboard and barcode scanner won’t work. Think that won’t put a hitch in your giddy-up?
Turned out to be, get this, HitmanProAlert.
Go figure. I love my job. It’s so easy. I just finished remotely controlling about 12 computers and implementing the fix. Uninstalling HitmanProAlert.

So, yeah, I think I got everyone squared away today. If anyone out there is still having this problem, lemme know.

Latest Challenge Follow-up

The new surveillance system has been up for over two months now. It’s working flawlessly.

I discovered that there are two basic types of surveillance cameras: analog and digital (also called “IP” cameras). No big surprise there. There are several types of standalone surveillance machines; analog inputs, digital inputs, and hybrid input machines which are fitted with both analog and digital.

For this installation I chose the hybrid model. Hybrids are a bit pricey but they allowed the client to keep their analog cameras. In the future, should new cameras be needed, we will use digital cameras. The wiring and connectivity is much easier and IP cameras are more readily available.

So, job done. The client is happy, I’m happy, and the system is working well.

You learn something new every day.

Latest Challenge – Video surveillance system

After years of clients asking me to handle their video surveillance I have finally said yes. I have not been comfortable with video surveillance systems and have therefore shied away from that kind of work. But after a recent lightning strike and a request from a client, I had a look at their system at saw quite a bit of damage from the strike and a lot of bad installation practices from their previous installer. As everyone who knows me knows, I’m a bit obsessive/compulsive about technology and I wanted their system repaired, and repaired correctly. In a game of “who do you trust”… So off I went.

The system was a PC based DVR and the PC had blown a hard drive, motherboard, CPU, video capture card, and RAM. Amazingly, the power supply was the only thing intact. I replaced all the blown components except the video capture card. When searching for a replacement, I discovered that the industry had moved on to standalone units and video capture cards were now rare and expensive. Ok, off I went into learning mode.

I am now in the middle of replacing several cameras, a camera power distribution unit, a standalone DVR, and some of the wiring. I’ll keep you posted.

Windows XP end of life – What does it mean?

Microsoft has announced that April of 2014 is the cutoff date for Microsoft’s support of the Windows XP Operating System. What does this mean for you? The most important point to stress is that your computers WILL continue to operate.

As of October 2010, Microsoft discontinued sales of the XP Operating System. Since then, one cannot buy a computer with that Operating System. Microsoft has continued to release patches and updates for the XP OS, and as of this writing, is continuing to do so until April of 2014. It is these patches and updates, or rather the lack of, that pose the first problem.

As malware programmers continue to pursue us, Microsoft makes every effort to prevent these miscreants from harming us. These efforts are released as updates and patches every Tuesday and if your system is set up correctly, they are downloaded and installed automatically, generally without you even noticing. Many of these patches replace existing system files that may have become corrupt over time and with the replacement, keep your computer running trouble-free. In April of 2014, they stop.

The next problem will be the lack of applications and drivers for Windows XP. Manufacturers of printers, as an example, peripheral manufacturerers no longer make drivers for Windows XP. So as we continue to add new equipment or replace older equipment, it is likely that the newer equipment will not work with Windows XP. Application developers will no longer develop Windows XP compatible programs. Quickbooks, Quicken, Microsoft Office are examples of such; after a certain date, as yet unknown, we’ll not be able to install these programs on a Windows XP machine.

Now is the time we should look into what Operating System we’ll need to replace the outgoing Windows XP Operating System. Windows 7 and Windows 8 are the current viable Microsoft Operating Systems. Which one is right for you? That depends on many factors including the hardware, software, and peripherals you have installed. These newer Operating Systems can require significant horsepower and memory. Your existing computers may or may not be enough. The only way to know for certain is to assess your current systems and make a determination after the assessment.

Please call if you’d like me to help.

PCI Compliance and Your Business

If you process credit cards in a retail environment, you’ve heard about PCI Compliance. But what have you done about PCI Compliance? The consequences of non-conformance to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards can be very severe. Let’s secure your system and prevent an unwanted horror story.

Why Cleaning Your Computer Is Important

Most of us don’t give much thought to the inside of our computer cases.  And that’s good.  Computers, for the most part, are very reliable machines and don’t usually insist we occupy our heads with constant concern.  But a little thought now and then about cleanliness will help keep our computers trouble free.

The biggest enemy faced by the inside of your computer case is heat.  Heat can cause a CPU to shut down, a power supply to blow up, or a hard drive to fail completely.  This is why, when you buy a desktop computer from me, you get at least 3 fans:  1 for the CPU, 1 for the power supply, and 1 for the case.  But if dust is allowed to build up inside the case, the fans can’t do their job.  The dust will block the airflow, cause overheating, and slow down or stop the computer.

QWorks Quick Q&A – Laptop problems

Laptop and notebook computers have their own set of problems.  If it’s related to software, memory, or hard drives, I can help you.

However, if you need a new screen or a new power jack, I recommend using a compamy that specializes in this kind of repair.  I have a relationship with such a company.  You can contact them directly or I would be happy to look at your problem and be your intermediary.

Contact information for Laptech PC is:
(770) 449-4600
http://www.laptechpc.com

QWorks Quick Q&A – Viruses, Trojans, Adware, Spyware

Virus, Trojan, Adware, Spyware. All of these things can be grouped under one common term: malware. And what is malware?

In its simplest terms, malware is any program that does something to your computer that is not good. It can delete files, stop you from running programs while pretending to be the solution for that problem, collect information about your internet surfing habits, collect credit card information; anything the author wants it to do. And it usually does this without your knowledge or permission! Not good.

So how does one remove malware? The real answer is: it depends. It depends on what has infected your system. And is it just one infection or is it more? Malware, once installed, usually calls its buddies to come and play. So a typical infection commonly involves more than one piece of malware. The ONLY sure-fire way to remove all malware is to reformat your drive and reinstall Windows and your applications.

How did you get infected? Most infections occur due to visiting an infected site or opening an email attachment. There is no telling what website is infected or whether or not an email attachment is an infection waiting to happen.

How do I keep from getting infected? Since one cannot know what website is infected or what email attachment is harmful, the best bet is a multi-level approach.

1) Stay away from websites that are prone to infection and don’t open email attachments from people you don’t know.

2) Install software that helps keep you from becoming infected.

3) Install software that can clean an infection if it gets through your defenses.

I have come up with a combination of software that addresses each of these steps. It is NOT foolproof, but it sure gives you a head start on prevention and cleaning.

A) Web of Trust for notifying you of known bad sites. (FREE)

B) Microsoft Security Essentials for detecting and preventing an infection. (FREE)

C) Malwarebytes Pro for detecting and preventing an infection, and for cleaning an infection if it does get through. (PAID)

D) SuperAntiSpyware for cleaning an infection if it does get through. (FREE or PAID)

Here are the links for each of these:

Web of Trust: http://www.mywot.com

Microsoft Security Essentials: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/security-essentials-download

Malwarebytes Pro: https://malwarebytes.org

SuperAntiSpyware: http://www.superantispyware.com

Proper installation and setup is essential. Call me and I’ll help.

QWorks Quick Q&A – Where is my file?

I am often asked to find a file for someone and then discover that knowing about files and folders is a bit rare these days.

Modern Operating Systems have a structure of folders and files that is based on the way we all keep track of real files and folders. Files are in a folder, the folder is in a drawer, the drawer is in a cabinet, etc. Computers are organized in the same manner.

When you create a document with an application such as Microsoft Word, that document is stored as a file. That file is in a folder, that folder may be in another folder, and all folders are stored in a cabinet. That cabinet is called a hard drive. Most documents that you create are stored, by default, in a particular folder named Documents or My Documents. All files have their favorite folders; Music, My Music, Videos, My Videos and so on.

Learn the file and folder structure of your computer and you may never have to ask me “Where is my file?”.

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