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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 $846million 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.
Call us at 570.235.1946 or schedule an appointment to set your computer up with protections against ransomware, and put backups in place that will keep your important files safe.
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.
Give us a call at 570.235.1946 to set up your branded business email.
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 570.235.1946 or schedule an appointment to book in a Tune Up.
11 Reasons To Upgrade to Office 365
With Office 365, it seems common sense has finally prevailed, giving business the changes they actually want. It’s still Office, and your staff will still know exactly how to work it, but they’ll get so much more done.
1. The whole Mac/Windows drama is over
Office 365 brings with it a stack of benefits, but perhaps the most relieving is the in-built file compatibility across all platforms. No more converting (or corrupting) files back and forth, productivity black holes have essentially been eliminated.
2. It’s always ready to go
Microsoft are so confident in their cloud-based software and data storage; they’re giving a 99.9% uptime guarantee. You can even call a real life human for support.
Work online, offline or mobile – the choice is yours.
3. Security is built in
A large part of Microsoft’s uptime certainty comes from their extremely robust security protocols. Office 365 offers enterprise-grade admin controls at your end, as well as government-grade security at their end.
4. Generous data allowances
Each user gets 1TB of cloud space for file storage, which can be shared at folder or file level.
5. Work anywhere, anytime
Previously, staff needed to establish a VPN or manage security concerns which made working off-site difficult and cumbersome. Office 365 has solved that problem and working from anywhere is now easy.
6. Integrated across devices
Calendar, email and contacts are all synced and updated across multiple devices: Laptop, desktop & mobile.
7. Yours for no upfront costs
Once upon a time, updating your Office version meant paying a small fortune and half a day downtime. Office 365 changes that, with no upfront cost or installation delay.
8. Mailbox storage through the roof
Forget the days of ‘user mailbox is full’ – each user is given a whopping 50GB in a gorgeous, easy-to-use mailbox.
9. Built in malware and spam protection
Data security doesn’t stop at file storage: email is scanned for malware and spam, protecting your business from all manner of attacks before they happen.
10. Collaboration tools and virtual meeting
Cancel your 3rd party services and bring all your collaborations into the one platform.
11. Integrated Team planning
Schedule tasks, meetings and track allocations from a top-down level to know exactly how projects are progressing.
We can help with your Office 365 migration and setup – give us a call today!
How To Protect Your Children Online
Now that the school holidays have finally started, children have all the time in the world to spend with their best friend: Technology.
Waking early to sneak in a couple hours of Minecraft, Roblox, YouTube or Xbox…grabbing their ‘educational’ iPad and Facetiming a friend…sending emails and texts…it’s open season during school holidays!
Not just the younger children, but teenagers too.
To be honest, as an adult, we really have no idea what’s cool or what they’ve been introduced to at school. They’re digital natives and use it in ways we would never dream of.
All we know is that they’re going to using their devices and we won’t be able to watch them every second of the day. Plus of course, no matter how many Cyber-Safety talks they’ve had, how many times they can parrot the rules back, they’re children and they don’t always stop to think.
A Parental Control Software (PCS) package is essentially an internet filter for children. It takes all the icky, inappropriate things online and blocks your child from accessing them, seeing them or even knowing they exist.
Adults can override and disable the software easily, so their own experience is unchanged and unmonitored.
As an added bonus, Parental Control Software can also be used to put time limits on internet usage, or even log all online activity. While you may not feel the need to review the logs on a daily basis, they can be vital in identifying cyber bullying, sexting, or inappropriate relationships. Parents around the world credit these logs with saving their child’s mental health, and occasionally, their life.
The best time to install Parental Control Software is now, before your children become comfortable with unrestricted access, and before they see things they shouldn’t.
Give us a call to set your computer up with Parental Control Software today.
Should You REALLY Click That Upgrade?
That pop up just won’t leave. It’s been hounding you to upgrade your software and clearly, it has zero intention of giving you a moment’s rest. That software wants to be upgraded and it wants it now.
With a grudging sigh, you click and let it upgrade in the background. Maybe now it will let you get some work done. Except instead of grabbing a competitive advantage by having the latest and greatest edition, you quickly discover it’s given you the exact opposite. Your essential hardware no longer works, you’ve got errors all over the place, and that application no longer runs at all.
Your urgent upgrade was more of an instant downgrade.
Before you click that nagging upgrade button, consider the following:
Is the upgrade going to work with your current systems?
If your project management software no longer talks to your scheduling software, you’ve got a problem. It’s reasonable to expect the upgrade to have gone through robust testing and bug fixes, but even the mega corporations are caught out in an instant.
Is your current solution still an option?
Developers cease support of older software versions after a certain date. In these cases, continuing to use an outdated version leaves your system vulnerable, without patches and security updates. If your software is at the end of its cycle, you’ll need to upgrade regardless. This, however, gives you the perfect opportunity to revise your selection and make some experienced decisions – upgrade or replace.
Will this upgrade benefit your business?
Some upgrades are purely cosmetic. They look great and the developers pitch them as the latest and greatest, but without additional innovation on offer, you’re better to wait.
On the other hand, if the upgrade is going to have a positive effect on productivity, efficiency or customer satisfaction, definitely put it on your to-do list. Hold off for just a few moments though, while your IT technicians research any conflicts that might arise.
Being an early adopter isn’t always the best idea. Sometimes you need to let your other software packages catch up, and compatibility issues will always be relevant. It’s more important than ever before to take your time and research the upgrade to see how others have fared – before things come crashing down.
Call us for a quick compatibility check before you click
So how do you balance being social with staying safe?
People happily share their private information online, building robust libraries that can easily become a one-stop goldmine for fraudsters.
It’s not exactly the intention everyone has when they sign up, as the whole point of Facebook is to share your life with your friends. It hooks us into a global community and the experience does depend on us making certain privacy sacrifices.
So how do you balance being social with staying safe?
On Facebook alone, the average person shares 13 pieces of personal information ranging from a fairly innocent name/email combo, all the way to mothers maiden name and home address.
It doesn’t sound like a lot, but those 13 pieces have the power to unravel your life within minutes.
Even checking in at home has become the norm, helping to create a multi-dimensional online identity. The details are available to anyone who cares to look, whether they’re a friend keeping in the loop, or someone with a much darker agenda.
The problem is, you just don’t know who’s looking at your profile or why.
For example, someone could try accessing your email account by clicking the ‘Forgot password’ link. The email service follows its security rules and asks identifying questions like ‘which high school did you go to? What is your pet’s name?’ Unfortunately, the most common identifying checks and answers are probably available on Facebook.
Once your email address is compromised, hackers can use that to break into other services and go through, clicking ‘Reset Password’ on site after site, account after account – they have full access to your email, so there’s nothing stopping them from emptying your bank accounts – or worse.
7 Ways To Secure Your Facebook Without Missing Out on the Fun
“Downtime costs money.”
That’s no secret, but it doesn’t quite capture the whole experience…you arrive to work in the morning, grab your coffee knowing you’ve got a hectic day ahead, and are ready to dive in.
For some reason the computer can’t access the database and neither can anyone else’s. You restart the server while fielding calls left, right and center, but are unable to answer any client queries. Your hands are completely tied…and now the server is beeping furiously…what’s going on??!
You’re not just in crisis mode, you’re on damage control as you call every tech you can think of, trying to find one who can come NOW.
Not exactly the day you had planned.
Previously, businesses only addressed their IT needs when something broke. A few hours down meant little in the scope of things. In today’s fast world, businesses rely heavily on IT and downtime just isn’t an option. Even the legalities of simply restoring financial, legal or medical files after a breach raises issues.
The cost of break/fix is now too high, both financially and emotionally.
Simply put, your IT services are remotely monitored and proactively managed by a professional, external business. Your Managed Service Provider (MSP) runs regular diagnostics on equipment to identify impending failure and resolves problems before they happen.
Small to medium businesses in particular benefit from managed services, because they don’t usually have an on-site technician to oversee the multiple systems in use. By subscribing to a managed service provider, businesses can have reduced labor costs, access to a knowledge base, future-pacing, better data security and reduced downtime. Businesses can also know exactly what their upcoming costs are and plan accordingly.
Some of the managed services we can provide are:
How much down time can your business afford? Give us a call.
Every employee shares one inescapable flaw that is putting your business at risk.
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.
Use complex passwords: Every employee, including management, needs to use an alphanumeric password that they haven’t used before. Password managers can assist with making sure they’re never forgotten.
Verify unknown identities: Not familiar with ‘Jenny from Accounting’ who has called to ask for sensitive information? Double check caller identity and access permissions before releasing any information. Hackers love to play on our desire to be helpful.
Encrypt by default: People regularly transfer data to a laptop or smartphone so they can work more efficiently. Unfortunately, this equipment can be easily stolen. Set operating systems to encrypt data by default, so that it becomes useless in the wrong hands.
Protect portable devices: Laptops and mobile phones should always require a password and be set to auto-lock after a short period of time. Never leave them unattended in cars, buses, restrooms etc, and take them as carry-on luggage.
Set personal usage rules: While you may have blocked productivity-vacuums such as Facebook, what are the rules regarding games, video streaming or shopping? Can they install their own software? When business computers are used for personal usage, security vigilance tends to slide, resulting in unintentional malware installation.
Educate often: Digital security threats change regularly, and people become comfortable with a certain level of danger, thinking ‘it will never happen to me’. A 5-minute discussion once a month may be the barrier that keeps hackers out.
If you need help implementing better security practices in your business, give us a call.