Stories about hackers and virus attacks seem to be making the news almost every day, and many of these news stories include tips on how you can avoid becoming a victim. One common theme among these tips is making sure your Windows operating system up to date.
Every day hackers are trying to figure out new ways to break into Microsoft Windows and once they do find a weakness, they try and find a way to spread it. This could be through a malicious email attachment or even something that spreads without your involvement.
Whenever Microsoft discovers a potential flaw, they push out a small piece of software to all Windows computers running a supported version. If set correctly, your computer will check if there’s any updates or patches and install them automatically. In new versions, this usually happens when you’re shutting down or starting up, and doesn’t impact your experience at all. Unfortunately, some users will manually disable or delay their updates, creating a risky situation.
The update may include security patches, drivers or a simple tweak to address bugs or issues with Windows. Sometimes, they even include new features or applications to improve the stability of your operating system. They’re a good thing!
Not All Versions Get Updates
Some older operating systems are no longer supported, which means unless there are extenuating circumstances, Microsoft won’t issue any new updates. Not a single one – generally, if cyber criminals discover a flaw after support ends, they’re free to exploit it. For example, Windows XP support ended in 2014, and Windows Vista just ended in April this year. The moment an operating system is retired it becomes a playground for cyber-criminals.
It’s not just Microsoft walking away from these old versions either. Third party software like the Google Chrome browser will still work, but they’ve also stopped supporting old versions with crucial updates and patches. It might seem like everything is working fine because your anti-virus isn’t pinging in alarm, but it just becomes a case of risk, upon risk, upon risk.
What to do with older Windows
As much as you’re comfortable with your older version of Windows, each time you boot up you’re exposing your system, important files and entire network. It only takes one weak entry point in the chain to allow malware into all connected devices. That could mean your photo storage, media center or even smart appliances. It’s not worth it - if you’re running Windows XP or Vista (or older), you need to update to a more modern operating system ASAP. Give us a call to upgrade your computer.
We can also monitor your system remotely and apply your Windows updates with our Managed Services packages, ensuring you are always up to date and protected. Give us a call at 262-515-9499.
Ransomware has become an undeniable threat to business growth, profitability and security. It’s a ruthless type of malware that locks your keyboard or computer to prevent you from accessing your data until you pay the ransom, which is usually demanded in untraceable Bitcoin. Cyber criminals are turning this type of attack into big business, raking in billions each year as many businesses have no choice but to pay up.
How does ransomware get into the network?
Surprisingly, it’s NOT those random USB drives floating around from unknown sources. That’s old school, and cyber criminals operate much more effectively now. The most common vehicle for ransomware attacks today are email and compromised websites.
One email is all it takes.
Infected websites aren’t always obvious.
Let’s face it, cyber criminals will infect any web page they can get their hands on, which is why of the less reputable sites should be avoided. But it’s not just about making sure you and your employees stick to suitable sites, mainstream websites can also carry ransomware infections ready to spread to all visitors. It’s happened before – in 2016 the New York Times, BBC & MSN homepages accidentally exposed thousands of web visitors when their infected site showed malicious ads.
What happens during an attack?
As soon as ransomware is in the door, it immediately scans local and connected drives (including connected backups) and encrypts thousands of files. Within minutes, everything from Office files to multimedia is locked up tight, inaccessible to all users – even admin. Then a notification appears demanding a ransom to unlock the files and gives helpful instructions on how to pay it. At this point, many businesses are on hold until the situation can be resolved. Typical options include: restoring from safe, external backups; wiping the entire system and starting again; or paying the ransom and learning a hard lesson in data security. Ransomware may not be fun, but it certainly makes for an interesting day at the office!
We can help you with a complete data security plan, including safe backups. Call us today at 262-515-9499.
Have you ever thought about how much your data is worth? Information is possibly the most valuable part of your business – there’s your client database, accounting software and inventory management, and of course, any intellectual property you may own.
When ransomware hits, businesses are suddenly forced to re-assess the value of their data: is it worth saving, and what’s the deeper cost of the attack?
Most ransomware attacks cost $150-$600 to get your files released, but that’s only IF the cyber-criminals honor the payment and actually give you the decryption key. Meanwhile, new client calls are still coming in and you may find yourself unable to operate with your systems down. Paying the ransom or restoring from an unaffected backup seems like a quick fix, but it doesn’t end there. There’s still the downtime involved to restore all your data – possibly days – and that’s a lot of lost productivity.
Plus, if word gets out that your data has been compromised, you may find confidence in your business plummets and your existing clients head elsewhere. That $150 ransom may end up costing well over $150,000!
Keep your systems up to date:
Many ransomware attacks take advantage of a flaw in older versions of Windows, ones that have since been patched by Microsoft. But to be protected, businesses must be up to date with their patches AND be running a supported version of Windows. Delaying patches and updates puts your business at risk - we can help you update automatically.
Lock down employee computers:
Very few staff will require full administrator access to your business network. The higher their level of permissions, the more damage a person can do – either accidentally with a whoopsie click, or by inadvertently installing malware. By locking down your employee computers, you have a better chance of containing a malware attack to non-vital systems. Our experts can design an access management plan that gives you best of both worlds: flexibility PLUS security.
Educate your workplace:
Most employees believe they’re being cyber-safe but the reality is quite different. Many malicious links and embedded malware have become hard to spot in an instant – which is all it takes to click and regret. We can work with your staff to establish procedures around checking links for authenticity before clicking, awareness around verifying the source of attachments, and the importance of anti-virus scanning. We’ll help get the message through!
Have a solid backup plan:
When ransomware hits, a connected backup = infected backup. Unfortunately, synced options such as Dropbox immediately clone the infected files, rendering them useless. The only safe backups will be the ones both physically and electronically disconnected, with systems designed to protect against attacks like this. Our experts can set you up with a backup system that makes recovery a breeze.
The best way to avoid the financial cost of a ransomware attack is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Smart businesses are the ones watching these widespread ransomware attacks from the sidelines, completely unaffected and seizing opportunities while their competitors are down.
Our managed services can help protect your business against the next cyber-attack. Call us today at 262-515-9499.
The Internet is growing and evolving so fast even the dictionary has trouble keeping up. Here are 12 suddenly common terms that are helpful to know.
The most popular browsers in 2017 are Google Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Microsoft Edge*. (*Internet Explorer has been superseded and is no longer recommended due to security concerns)
Electronic Mail (formerly spelled with a hyphen: ‘e-mail’) is typed messages sent from one person/business to another via the Internet. It’s delivered almost instantly and then waits patiently for the recipient to open and read it.
You’ll need a webmail service (e.g. Gmail) or installed software (e.g. Outlook) to read, write and send, but you can also set your smartphone up for this. Most emails are in the form of letters, newsletters or catalogs, often with a more casual tone. Email can include text, links to the internet and images, but not video/sound.
Before important data is sent over the internet, it’s scrambled to turn it into gibberish that means nothing to anybody who might intercept it. Unless there’s been a massive security breach, only the sender and intended recipient will have the decryption key to turn it back into readable data.
You don’t have to encrypt your own data as it happens automatically. Your email provider and important places like banks and online stores have digital security systems that take care of the encryption/decryption for you.
A firewall is a security measure designed to act like a door bouncer to your network. When an unauthorized user attempts to gain entry, the firewall blocks their path until it’s checked them out thoroughly. If there’s anything suspicious, the firewall refuses to let them in.
HTTP and HTTPS
These are acronyms for the rules of how data is transmitted to your computer screen. The actual mechanics are incredibly complicated, but the terms have one very important distinction:
Every device that accesses the Internet is assigned a unique IP address to identify itself. It’s used to make sure when you request a page or document, it’s sent to you – and not someone in Alaska. Your IP will look something like ‘22.214.171.124’ and may be referred to as fixed or dynamic.
Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is the company that allows you to connect to the Internet. They’ll also offer extra services like email or web hosting. It’s impossible to bypass the ISP level and connect directly to the Internet.
A broad term to describe viruses and malicious software from hackers. Malware can manipulate you into paying money, take control of your computer, steal your private details or break your computer in some way. Instead of listing each specific threat, you’ll commonly see them lumped together under ‘malware’.
The traffic system for your network, connecting computers and devices within the home and acting as a defensive gateway to the Internet. These hardware devices can be wired or wireless, and allow you to share one Internet connection amongst all the computers/devices in your home.
A broad term to describe all the websites and applications that let you share and interact with others online. To fit this umbrella, the site needs to allow user profiles, live updates and the ability to add friends/followers. The most common social media applications are Facebook and Twitter.
Spam and Filtering
Any unsolicited messages sent over the Internet, usually in bulk, are called spam. Usually, it’s electronic junk mail, but it’s also a technique hackers use to trick people into clicking links to their malware.
Email applications are reasonably good at identifying spam and should shift it automatically to a spam folder before you see it. Occasionally, the filters get it wrong and you may find a relevant email needs to be dragged back to your inbox.
Each website has a unique address on the web known as a URL (Uniform Resource Locator). URLs commonly end in .com but can also end in a country specific extension like .com.au or .fr, or more recently, in new and exciting extensions such as .xyz or .me
Laptop computers are one of the most fragile pieces of tech you’ll ever buy, but they also receive the roughest treatment. Extend your laptop’s life with these five easy tips.
Avoid sharp movements during use: While some newer laptops have an SSD drive with no moving parts, many laptops still have mechanical drives which work a bit like a record player. It has a head which is like a record player needle, and a data storage platter like a record. The head hovers just microns over the surface of the spinning disk and a knock can cause them to collide. Just like a deep scratch on a record, whatever data was on that section will be corrupted and lost. Make sure you always power down the laptop before moving it or packing it away.
Keep it cool: Your laptop has 2 sure ways of telling you when it’s too hot - the fan and auto-shut off. Each component in your laptop is generating heat, and the harder it’s working, the more heat each creates. The fan runs to blow that heat out the vent and keep the components cool enough to continue operating. Because there’s no clear temperature indicator, your fan volume is the best guide to monitoring laptop heat. While the laptop is working hard (and getting hot), the fan will spin faster and louder. It’s not uncommon for it to sound like a hair dryer at times! Help it out by keeping your fan vent clear of books, blankets, and other blockages.
Respect the cords: Inside those robust looking power cords are a bunch of delicate wires, begging you to be gentle. You’d think they should be able to take a beating, get bent, twisted and run over with chair wheels, but unfortunately not. Keep cords clear of sharp or flat-edged items, and when wrapping for transport try to mimic how it came out of the box. Wrap the cord gently around itself or the power adapter and secure with Velcro or similar.
Carry it in padded style: Look for a bag that not only fits your laptop but also provides padding. Your system will endure countless bumps and bangs as the bag is moved around, even with careful use. Ideally your bag has bottom, side AND top padding, as well as a waterproof outer. If backpacks aren’t your style, look for padded or hard-shelled sleeves.
Back it up: Laptops give us fantastic mobility but as mentioned above they’re quite fragile. While a backup won’t make your laptop components last longer, it will make minor repairs that much easier. You’re more likely to take it in for a service if your data is accessible elsewhere, and of course, in the event of accident or theft, you’re fully prepared. Consider an off-site backup for additional protection, so no matter what happens with your laptop you still have your important files.
Call us at 262-515-9499 to give your laptop a life-extending service.
Remember the awe you felt when you turned on your new computer and it loaded in a flash? Your computer was the envy of your friends and you weren’t afraid to bathe in that glory. Button on, ready to go, those were the days!
After a year or two though, it doesn’t seem to be quite as zippy…no, you’re not imagining it. It really has slowed down, not just in comparison to newer models and your expectations…There’s a measurable drop in speed and power that has nothing to do with worn out parts. The good news is a little maintenance can have that baby cruising at top speed again. Let’s take a leisurely walk through the system and spot the culprits:
Start-up applications: It’s super convenient to have Skype start automatically and your anti-virus too. In fact, many of the applications starting themselves with the computer are essential to your experience. But some of them are getting a little too ‘helpful’.
For example, iTunes helper loads in the background to speed things up when you connect your device – but if you can’t even remember the last time you ran iTunes on your computer, then it can go. Programs like that are holding onto a portion of your processing power and adding to your speed issues. The average home computer automatically loads around 75 programs at start-up!
Temporary junk: Computers are kind of messy. They leave temporary files and snippets of information all over your hard drive, each action leaving a trail rather like a roaming toddler with a sticky sandwich. Every webpage, every image on that webpage, every program you run and every game you play leaves something behind.
It may be the tidbits of information called “cookies”, saved game files, auto-restore files or even a log so that you can hit the undo button 100 times while it remembers your actions for you.
The more junk your computer builds up, the slower it gets.
Viruses and malware: These infections sit in the background consuming resources while doing various nightmarish things. They may be spying on your actions, stealing your information or reaching out through your network to infect others. Occasionally, the impact is limited to seeing your computer slow to a crawl, however the flow-on financial costs of an infection can easily reach into the thousands.
Bloating: With every new version of software comes a new set of features, introductory sequences and design improvements. The problem with this is the application becomes larger and larger with each new version, requiring more system resources to install and run – and slowing your computer down.
Just like a car, computers need regular maintenance - we offer a Tune-Up service to bring your computer back to its original speed and extend its life.
Give us a call at 262-515-9499 to book in a Tune Up.
The message is clear: email is king. Many clients and customers choose to communicate primarily by email and as you know, it gives a fantastic ROI in your marketing strategy…unless you’re using a free email like Hotmail, Gmail, or even your internet provider. If that’s the case, you’re losing business each and every day.
It looks unprofessional: Imagine if banks used free email accounts – you’d never feel comfortable giving them your personal details let alone any money. How people perceive your business is what makes your business. Without that professional touch, you’ll appear temporary and fly-by-night. It puts your credibility into question and sends the message that you’re not serious about doing business – or worse – that you’re prepared to cut corners.
It erases your experience: Newer, fledgling businesses often start out with a free email address. The address clearly communicates that they are new and have little experience, and are perhaps testing the waters in a new direction. They’re not even remotely proven yet and are firmly within the hobby-zone. Continuing to use the free address once your business moves into the professional arena means you’ll struggle to build momentum and any experience will be negated.
It’s forgettable or inappropriate: Your business success hinges on being memorable enough to gain referral custom and results from your advertising. Unfortunately, free email addresses are by default filled with hard to remember clutter, for example – email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neither of these roll off the tongue, is appropriate for business, or can be remembered without a high likelihood of typos and bounce back. Branded email addresses such as email@example.com make running a profitable, scalable business much easier.
It’s not permanent or safe: When you use a free email address you are at the mercy of the email provider. They may close down operations or cancel your account for any reason. These types of accounts are also often hacked and leaked on a global scale. When a better internet or email deal comes along, you’re still stuck using the old address because it’s printed on your business cards, car lettering and flyers.
Some will agree to keep the address open for a fee, but you’ll lose the control and flexibility you need to grow your business. With your own domain name, you own it and can move it to a new business-grade email service easily. You’ll also have complete master control over the addresses within your domain, resetting passwords and creating/closing accounts at will.
Every employee shares one inescapable flaw that is putting your business at risk. They’re human.
59% of data breaches can be traced back to something an employee did (or didn’t do), which invited a cyber-attack.
To lock hackers out, build security awareness and respect into your company culture, so that maintaining digital security becomes as routine as making coffee.
If you need help implementing better security practices in your business, contact us here.
Ransomware has undeniably been the biggest security threat of 2016. No-one was safe. Hackers targeted everyone and everything, including home PCs – and they were astoundingly successful – earning themselves upwards of $846 million from US reported incidents alone. Business is booming for hackers, with thousands of attacks each day bringing in an average of $640 per target. Perhaps even more alarmingly, the financial cost of each individual attack is on the rise – the more ransomware proves to be an easy earner for them, the more they demand each time.
For a quick payday, some hackers offer to ‘rescue’ you from immediate danger – for a fee. One method is to trick you into thinking you have a virus that will spread if you don’t pay money to remove it immediately. Another much scarier method is to pretend to be the FBI and say your computer was involved in a crime (anything from money laundering to child pornography) and you can avoid going to prison by paying a few hundred dollars.
Thousands of regular people are also waking up every day to discover they’ve been locked out of their own files. Entire music and video libraries, digital photos from the past 5 years, personal budget files and even their secret novel draft …all held hostage until the user pays a ransom. The encryption is so strong and unbreakable that paying the ransom often becomes the only solution.
The way ransomware gets onto your computer is deviously simple. Generally, the hackers convince you to click an email attachment/link or pop-up. With both approaches, the hacker usually offers helpful information, for example:
It’s so tempting to click through for more details and that’s what the hackers count on. Their messages and pop-ups aren’t obvious threats and so slip easily under our radar. Unfortunately, they’re not the most trustworthy bunch so paying may not actually unlock your files, and one payment can quickly become several.
To make matters worse, they can encrypt any backups connected to your computer too, like a USB drive. Having a backup is super important in any situation, but in cases like this, the right backup is needed. Not only one stored separate from your network, but one created recently with all the files you can’t bear to lose. Before restoring your backup, however, you’ll need to make sure the malware isn’t lurking in the background, ready to not just re-infect your restored files but also the backup drive itself.
To avoid finding yourself up to the waist in ransom demands or sending hackers money each month, we recommend being wary of email attachments, even from friends and family. If you’re not sure what the file is, don’t click it. They may not have sent that email intentionally; their infected system may be auto-emailing everyone in the address book. You should also be careful with any popups that appear out of place, especially ones that try to make you panic. If it doesn’t sound right or look right, don’t click it. Ransomware is just too dangerous to risk.
Contact Us to set your computer up with protections against ransomware, and put backups in place that will keep your important files safe.