Archive for April, 2014

Who’s Accessing Your PC?

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Handcuffs  Last month a Luton man was successfully prosecuted for scamming users into paying for free software. He had hired a number of call centre staff in India to call UK residents and to trick them into giving them remote access to their PC’s. The caller would tell the victim that their PC had a serious issue and that they could fix it for them. They then charged victims between £35 and £150 for software which could be downloaded from Microsoft for free.

Trading Standards have hailed this as a landmark case, the first time a UK resident has been convicted of the Microsoft scam, however, there are many more copy-cat scams in place so how do you make sure you don’t fall victim?

Firstly, Microsoft do not make outgoing calls to their customers – never! If you get a call from anyone who says they are calling directly from Microsoft then it’s simply not true.

Secondly, unless you are paying for a managed support service on your home PC, no third party company would know if you had a virus or other issue with your PC and be able to get in contact with you about it.

Worried userSome of these callers can be very convincing and, with most users conscious of the number of viruses and security around, it is easy to be lulled into thinking that something terrible is happening with your PC, but if anyone calls out of the blue and wants access to your PC, don’t let them in!

If you are worried that you may have a virus or malware on your PC, make sure that your anti-virus software is up to date and running properly then run a full scan. Once the scan has completed, follow any instructions carefully to ensure that any infections are successfully removed.

If in doubt, contact a reputable local IT company who will have the tools available to remove any infections.

CryptoLocker Ransomware – Don’t get Caught

Friday, April 25th, 2014

Man in despairI am sure most people are aware that there are some pretty nasty bugs and malware being sent around the Internet.

Some hijack your email and send spam to your address book, others are designed to sit secretly in the background and simply use your systems resource and internet connection as a gateway to send spam or process tasks in the background. Some try to steal your identity or personal information either through logging your key strokes or duping you in to entering personal details into a fake website. Some will try to ‘break’ your system by changing settings or files .

Now, these are not nice and can be a nuisance to get rid of. Generally, any decent anti-virus product will protect your system and stop these programs from running or at least stop them in their tracks. You can then restore any damaged or missing files from your backup, though normally any data will be retrievable anyway, even in the case of a complete reload of the system.

There is one virus however, which can cause the loss of all your data and files and for which there is currently no known resolution apart from paying a lot of money – and even that will not guarantee a return of your data.

The CryptoLocker virus sits dormant on an infected machine until that system is rebooted. This then triggers a file to run on restart which secretly works its way through your files encrypting them and making them unreadable. Not only will it work its way through your hard drive, but it will search through any mapped network drives or connected USB drives encrypting them also.

Screenshot of Cryptoware warningAs a final nail in the coffin, it will attempt to delete and disable any historical shadow copies, just to make doubly sure you have no way of retrieving your precious data.

Only when it has finished will it display its message on your desktop to tell you your system is infected and with details on how to pay and retrieve the key to decrypt your data.

So, how can you protect yourself? Generally the virus is transmitted via an email attachment. These are appearing more and more genuine and those we have seen include Companies House submission reports, Bank statement notifications, delivery instructions from major courier companies and HMRC tax return notifications. The attachment pretends to be a pdf document but is in fact an executable file which runs and then infects.

Image of Bullguard protection software packageFirstly, do not open or even preview an email you are not expecting from these sort of sources. If in doubt, delete it.

Secondly, make sure you are running up to date, valid anti-virus software. This will help to pick up any known executable files as they run on your system.

Thirdly, there is a small application, written by FoolishIT LLC which can be installed on a PC to help protect against this particular threat. It stops certain file types running in certain locations on your PC. This will help to protect against the virus but may possibly impact some other 3rd party software also. You can download CryptoPrevent from the following page: http://www.foolishit.com/download/cryptoprevent/

Backup imageFinally, make sure your system is regularly backed up but, if you back up onto a USB disk, do not leave this permanently attached to your PC. Depending on how you back your files up, this could become encrypted also should you be infected.

Should you be unfortunate enough to be a victim of this virus, and you simply must try to retrieve your information, you have a limited time to follow the instructions and decrypt your files. Currently, there is no other alternative to retrieving any encrypted data. Success rates vary and paying the ransom does not guarantee your files will be saved. If you do want to take this route, then do not make any attempt to clean your system until you have tried to decrypt your files. If you remove the key files from your system then you could end up having to pay more money or not be able to decrypt your files at all.

For more information on keeping your systems safe and secure, please contact us.

Get Connected – Guide to Home Broadband

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

These days I think you would be hard pushed to find a home with a computer or mobile device and no Internet access.Router

We find when talking to people about to buy a new computer, when we ask what they want to use it for ‘Surfing the Web’ is normally one of the first things they say.

But does all that technical jargon about speeds and uploads confuse you? Do you know what you’re signing up for (or what you’ve already got!) and how do you know you are getting what you signed up for? Here’s a few hints and tips which might help.

Different types of connection

There are many different forms of connection but the most common ones for households are:

FibreFibre – supplied by companies like Virgin, Fibre Optic broadband offers one of the fastest service for domestic customers. It is independent of your telephone line and requires a dedicated fibre optic cable to be run to your home. This is often bundled with Cable television services. Whether you can get this service depends on whether any Cable companies have installed a cable network in your street.

Fibre to the Cabinet– services such as BT’s Infinity service operate over Fibre Optic cables to your street corner cabinet but then use your copper telephone wire for the last part of the journey. Although this requires an engineer visit to set up, there should be no need for any cabling work to your home. Speeds will vary depending on how far away you are from your street corner BT box as the signal degrades over the copper line the further it has to travel.

ADSL – This connection runs over copper wires from the Exchange, to the street box and then on to your home. This connection does not require an engineer visit to install, your provider will send you a router, which is generally pre-configured, and the service is ‘switched on’ remotely by your service provider. The speeds you get will depend on your distance from the Exchange.

Mobile – You can get a connection to the Internet by using either a compatible mobile phone or by purchasing a USB dongle Mobiles with connection to broadbandwhich connects using mobile signals. The price for this service is either included in your mobile phone contract by way of a Data tariff or with a USB dongle on a pay as you go scheme based up a certain amount of data usage. These services are great if you do not want, or cannot get, a fixed line service to your home or if you travel a lot but they do require a good mobile phone signal to work and speeds will not be as great as a fixed line service. Also ensure that your tariff will allow for the amount of data you will be using so as not to get large, unexpected bills!

Speeds

The speeds you get will vary depending on your type of connection and your location. You have 2 speeds to consider – Upload speedwill generally be slower. That is the speed you will get when uploading data to the Internet such as sending emails or uploading photographs to social media sites or using a remote backup or file storage service like DropBox.

DownloadingDownload speed is the faster speed and this applies to browsing the Internet, receiving emails and downloading files, movies or music.

Speed is generally calculated in Mb/s or Megabits per second. Basically, the higher your Mb/s the faster your connection.

This should not be confused with MB – MegaBytes. This relates to file sizes, but can also be important as some providers will have a limit to the amount of data that can be downloaded.

Checking your connection

The best way to check your connection is to use an online speed test tool. This can normally be found on your provider’s website or by doing an Internet search for Speed Test. These tests should be run on a computer that is connected to your router by a cable rather than wirelessly, as this can affect the reports. You should also check that no-one else in the household is connected to the Internet and downloading or uploading anything as this will also affect the results. The tests will run through and then tell you what your upload and download speeds are. You should run these a few times to get an average result. If the speeds reported are significantly different to the speeds your provider says you should be getting then do speak to them about it. It could be that there is a fault on your line or with the connection, which they can repair to improve things.

So you think you’re a careful Internet user?

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Photo of girl on phoneThese days it’s hard for us to avoid doing certain tasks online. Even if you prefer to receive you bills and statements manually, buy items in person on the High Street and don’t use Social Media, many of us will use a computer to browse the Internet and use Email.

So how much of the data we enter on our computers, or even fill out in coupons, can find its way into the Public domain? The answer is, more than you probably think!

Let’s think about an average day for our Virtual user, let’s call her Stacey. Stacey gets up in the morning and the first thing she does is check her Facebook page and respond to a friend’s photo taken last night. Most Social network sites will register your GPS co-ordinates when you post or even take a photo on your mobile phone, so that gives a pretty accurate idea of where Stacey’s friend was last night and where Stacey is this morning. As she always checks her Facebook page when she wakes up, that builds up a regular location and so without knowing Stacey’s address, we could assume that she lives at that location as she adds a post from there first thing most mornings.

Stacey makes her way to work. On the bus, she checks her personal emails. There’s an email in from a shop she goes to regularly. She has a loyalty card with them (which means they will know what products she purchases and when) and they are offering a chance to win a product she really likes. She enters the competition on line, giving her address and date of birth. She doesn’t check the box to deny access to this information from 3rd parties, so she’s probably now going to receive lots of other related offers either through the post or via email.

She gets to work and logs on to her computer and starts work. It’s a busy morning and the time flies by! At lunchtime she needs to check details of an order she placed recently with a mail order company. She tries to log in emailbut can’t remember her password, so gets a reminder sent to her personal, free email account. To do that, she has to enter her secret questions – date of birth and Mothers Maiden name. That’s right, it was her usual password. Uh, oh! One password for everything? Plus using 2 pieces of information that are commonly used to prove identity for Banking?

OK, so we would like to think that all companies treat their customers data as top secret , and the majority do, but we hear of cases where information does get in to the wrong hands occasionally. Try not to use the same password all the time, or have something that is too personal (date of birth, name of your house, favourite team) and don’t be afraid to lie if asked for the information and it’s not for a genuine identification purpose like a Bank, Inland Revenue or DVLA where it will be used to cross reference with other databases.

Stacey notices that in her email web portal she is seeing adverts relating to blue prom dresses. That’s strange, she was only looking at those last night on the web! It’s not a coincidence. Most free services such as Gmail and Yahoo are free because the companies are getting paid by the advertisers, and not just for space. Although personal identification details don’t get sold, they will pass on details of searches you carry out, phrases or words mentioned in your emails and websites you visit. This allows them to tailor the adverts you see to things supposedly relevant to you.

Lunch hour over, it’s back to work. Stacey takes the opportunity to update her Linked In page with some updated employment and education details and updates her contact information with her new mobile number. Although Linked In is a business networking site, it’s still posting personal information that’s available for all to see. Plus, there’s a lovely photo on there that she’s really proud of. Looks very professional (and now everyone can put a face to the name, email address and phone number!)

drinksAfter work, Stacey is catching up with some friends for a drink. They keep in touch via Social media about where they will meet and what time.

During the evening they all post comments and photos on Social media. Again, it’s advertising where they are and what they are doing. Looks like it’s going to be a long night… wonder if there’s anyone else at home??

So, should we pull down the shutters, bolt the doors and never venture into the virtual world again? Is it all full of crooks and villains just waiting to grab the first bit of information we put in the public domain? In reality, no, but it’s wise to be careful and think about what you are posting and where.

For example, taking a nice photo of your house and secluded back garden and posting on Facebook, at the same time as mentioning your up and coming 2 week family holiday, is not to be recommended!

As mentioned before, try to avoid using personal details where they are not required for proper identification purposes and read the small print carefully when filling out forms, both online and on paper (as they will just get entered onto a computer somewhere too eventually!)

Finally, check the privacy settings on your social media accounts to make sure that details are only shown to those you want to see them rather than being open to all.

 

What is Cloud Computing?

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Cloud – it’s been a big buzz word in the computing world for a few years now. But what does it mean and do you need it?

CloudBasically, Cloud Computing is where you use software, services or storage through your PC, laptop, tablet or mobile device and that software or storage is not local to your device or network but accessed via the Internet.

Many people have probably been using this for some time without even realising it! If you access you email through a web site rather than downloading it with an application like Outlook then that can be classed as Cloud Computing. If you use DropBox, GoogleApps, Facebook, Twitter – they are all effectively Cloud services or solutions because you are storing or accessing your information via a server and network somewhere else in the World.

As time goes on, more and more applications and solutions are turning to the Cloud to offer customers greater functionality, storage and applications with the customer having to invest in expensive hardware or software locally. As long as you have an Internet connection then you can generally access these services and files.

Cloud services logosIs it safe? You need to treat Cloud Computing and the Internet with care. At the end of the day, if you are using a cloud-based back up service or storing your data in GoogleApps, DropBox or some other similar online service then that storage space is out of your control.

Reputable companies will do all they can to maintain clients privacy and security. Many of them have larger, expensive corporate services as well as the cheaper or free consumer offerings and the last thing they would want to do is jeopardise those relationships with a security scare. However, users need to take steps to secure their data and protect themselves too.

Be aware that many free services offer no guarantee of uptime or protection of your data from deletion or corruption. In other words, don’t rely on a free service as the only means of storage of vital or precious documents or photos.

Make sure your online accounts are secure with strong passwords and usernames and that you change these regularly. Don’t use the same user name and password for everything!

Finally, make sure you read the terms and conditions before signing up to an online service to see if there are any restrictions on what you can upload or use the service for, the amount of storage you will get or the bandwidth you will have for access and if the company retains any rights to ‘interrogate’ or view your data.