Archive for the ‘Computer Help’ Category

Safe computing for the holidays

December 21, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Taking time off to spend with family and friends is such a treat, but alas for many it is hard to stay away from the computer.  If you are going to do some online shopping, play a new game or check your work email, be sure to practice safe computing.  Your home computer may not have the same protection as work, so before you download that file or visit a new site make sure you are protected.

Protecting your computer

1)  Make sure your operating system is updated and all security patches are installed.  If you are using Windows, go to Control Panel Home, then Windows Update. This page will show you if you are up to date or if you need an update.  If you are out of date, follow the instructions and consider turning on automatic updates.  If you have a Mac, the update is similar to Windows so just follow the instructions.  If you have Unix or Linux, you are probably an expert and know how to patch your system.

2)  Browse safely.  Be sure your browser is current and that you are protecting against malware.  Malware are those nasty intruders that we often call viruses, trojans, worms or spyware.  For Windows, you can use Microsoft Security Essentials.  It is a free Microsoft tool that runs in the background and will alert you when a threat is identified.  Remember no protection is 100%, so you have to think before you click and be prepared to remove infections.

3)  Use a firewall. Firewalls can be hardware or software and screen Internet traffic as a first line of defense.

4)  Use spam filters. Most email programs include a spam and junk filter.  Not only can you trash unwanted junk mail, but you can disable email links (recommended) and be warned of malicious content.  There are many malicious emails that look legitimate so be careful when opening emails and never click on attachments or links unless you are certain of the source.

5)  Download safely. Only download from sites that you know are legitimate and reputable. When you download, save the file and be sure that your antivirus software is set up to scan when you open files.  A good rule to follow when opening anything is when in doubt – don’t!

6)  Have a computer expert you can count on.  If you are unfamiliar with computer protection, be sure to have someone who you can consult for advice and help.  It seems complicated, but there are many tools that are easy to configure that run automatically to keep you safe.  Be sure you are protected so that you can enjoy the holiday season with your family and friends rather than fixing your computer.

7)  Be sure you have a current backup.  Just in case the worst happens, you can restore to your latest backup.

Online information and help is abundant, but be cautious that you don’t get fooled by malware that pretends to offer help.  If you get a pop-up that claims it will remove an infection from your computer for a price, stop and call your expert!

If you need help or have comments/suggestions, please feel free to contact me at: mary@lansystems.com.

All of us at LAN Systems wish you a safe and joyous holiday season.

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It’s a jungle out there – be smart online

June 29, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Recently, I posted a job on craigslist for a senior systems and network engineer.  Although craigslist is a popular site, I have never used it and had some concerns about posting on a site that has received so much bad press. After researching, I decided to post our job and have been very happy with the response. But it’s a jungle out there and I knew to expect some scam artists to use the ad to try an attack.

Then today, I received an email from updates-craigslist: Updates!New Terms – Accept: June 29, 2011 with the following message:

———————————————————————-

craigslist

———————————————————————-
Dear Customer,

We need your help resolving an issue with your account. To give us time to work together on this, we’ve temporarily limited what you can do with your account until the issue is resolved.

We noticed some unusual activity . 

How you can help?

You must reverify your account and take the time to accept and read our terms: log in here  

It’s usually pretty easy to take care of things like this.

Ad: # 318-277-551-175

We understand it may be frustrating not to have full access to your account. We want to work with you to get your account back to normal as quickly as possible.

Thanks,

———————————————————————-

Copyright ©2011  Inc. All rights reserved. CL #73445897433\

It’s a scam and has all the characteristics (without typos) of a phishing attempt.  It tries to get you to login with their fake link and get you to input your account information.  Once your username/password was obtained, the phishers would take over your account and get as much information as they could about you.  They can’t do much on craigslist except make some inappropriate postings under your name, but they could use the username/password to break into other accounts like Twitter, Facebook or bank accounts.

So as a reminder, don’t fall for email scams.  When in doubt – don’t click, reply or forward.  Use strong passwords and make sure you have a good spam filter and malware protection.

Why does China want your gmail account?

June 2, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Google is certain that the latest hacking attempt comes from Jinan, China as a phishing scam to obtain gmail passwords. This type of attack happens all the time, but since senior level US government officials, military personnel and political activists were targeted the intent seems much more sinister. The attacks were common phishing schemes that are not very sophisticated opening speculation that this was testing the water and that the information may be used for broader attacks.

If someone has your username and password, they can hijack your account.  Not only will they have access to your email, but they can change account settings, forward email and send email as you.  If you are unaware that your account has been compromised, the hacker can play havoc with your information and identity.

Certainly, you have heard these warnings: create a strong password, don’t divulge username and password information especially from email requests, use a good anti-virus, have malware protection and keep a good backup. This cannot be stressed enough – create a strong password for your important accounts.  Next, use a two-step verification or authentication whenever possible.  This is another way to prove it is you.  Google uses a strategy where they will send a unique code to your phone that is required to sign in. The problem with this security measure is that it is not convenient as it takes another step and more time. Often users choose convenience over security.

When you use more than one email address and if you send to a mobile device, be sure that you use security measures that adequately protect your information.  The more valuable the information, the more protection is needed. and just like physical security, use barriers as deterrents.  In the digital and virtual world, barriers are passwords, tokens, PINs and other information that only you will know.

To learn more about the Google 2-step verification, go to http://www.google.com/support/a/bin/answer.py?answer=175197

Social Media Tactics: Part 2

May 6, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]By Katie Sewell, TAG and Mary Hester, LAN Systems

social_media_tacticsThe second part of our tactics for social media includes LinkedIn and blogging.  LinkedIn is widely used by business professionals to promote their business and to job search.  It’s easy to set up  a personal and/or business LinkedIn page and you can keep it current using built in tools that won’t take too much of your time.

Upon creation of your LinkedIn profile, be sure to craft a flattering position summary for your company to promote.

Deciding how you will accept connections is important, as well. LION (LinkedIn Open Network) members connect to almost anyone that requests whether they know them or not. More conservative members only link to people they personally know. This is your choice and you can adjust your settings to share or hide your connections. There are many security settings that control how much or how little of your information is shared. If you are concerned about sharing information, start with very secure settings and adjust as needed.

On to business promotion:

  1. Create a company page with your logo, overview, specialties and statistics. Make sure current employees link to the page and that you have included your website.
  2. Look for groups to join that are of interest to your customers. There are many groups on LinkedIn that you can easily reach the 50 limit set by LinkedIn. Of course, you can join groups that are of personal interest, but if you are promoting your company the best groups will be those of interest to your customers.
  3. Create a group based on your subject matter expertise and promote to your contacts. It is best to approve new members rather than have an open access.
  4. Start group discussions and keep the conversation going. Some groups will be very active and others will need prodding. Be sure to monitor messages for appropriate content and spam. You can remove abusers.
  5. Look at the open Q&A discussions. Even if you choose not to participate, take a glance at the types of questions and answers that are being posted. You may want to experiment in this open forum before starting your own group. If you are (or want to be) a subject matter expert for your company, search this forum for questions to answer.

Blogging  – Choose the type of blog and your voice.  Try to be consistent in your post frequency and blog personality.  Remember what’s said on the Internet stays on the Internet!

  1. If you’re not ready to start your own blog, contribute to others.  This is an easy way to get started and test if you really want to be a blogger.
  2. Pick a schedule and try to stick with it.  If you have lots of demands on your time that are not blog-related, you may want to start with a monthly or weekly blog.  Entries can be informal or traditional depending upon your style and your business.
  3. Use your blog to point readers to your web site, Facebook or Twitter account.
  4. Try to engage your readers in a dialogue by encouraging comments and feedback. Respond to comments and questions quickly.  Many readers will not post comments, but will correspond with you privately.  If it starts as a private conversation, keep it that way unless both parties want to go public.

Hope that you have enjoyed our short series on Social Media. Please share your experiences, ideas and comments!

How to Protect Your Computer Against Malware

February 21, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Each year the damages from computer malware cost US businesses billions of dollars. These costs are not only in lost productivity, but permanent loss of critical business data. Arguably, most if not all infections are preventable with the proper understanding, training and protection. Don’t be the next victim, take the steps now to ensure protection and recovery if the worst should happen.

First, let’s understand computer malware. Often the term virus is used to describe all malware. Technically speaking, there are viruses, rootkits, Trojan horses, worms and spyware. The attack method may differ but they are all malicious.

A virus is a program that runs itself and replicates itself. It can affect files or the boot sector and can delete all your data. The “Melissa” and “I Love You” viruses gained global attention.

A rootkit or Trojan horse allows access to your system without your knowledge. Often they look like a useful piece of software but in fact they are back or trap doors.

A computer worm is a self-replicating computer program. It uses a network to send copies of itself to other nodes. Once on the system, worms do not need to attach to another program and can run themselves. Worms cause a denial of service attack making the network unusable. In general, worms target the network and viruses attack files.

Spyware is computer software that is installed on a personal computer to intercept or take control of the PC. Spyware can hijack a computer and cause serious problems by gathering and transmitting personal data, loading undesirable software or redirecting browsers to malicious sites.

Protecting yourself –

  1. Have a good backup, just in case you need to restore
  2. Use a firewall
  3. Keep your system updated with the latest security patches
  4. Install and update anti-virus and anti-spyware software (see below for choices)
  5. Do not open email from anonymous, unknown or suspicious sources
  6. Do not download files or software from anonymous, unknown or suspicious sources
  7. Do not navigate to suspicious or promiscuous websites
  8. Regularly scan your system for malware (see below for choices)
  9. Worth repeating – be sure that you have a good backup so that you can restore your full system if needed
  10. If you think you have been attacked, act quickly to isolate the infected computer and remove the malware.

You can purchase anti-virus and malware protection or there are many free versions for home users. For anti-virus, AVG, Avast and others have free versions. For corporate anti-virus, we use Symantec Endpoint. For malware, we like Malwarebytes (personal or corporate edition) and Advanced System Care. With so many choices if you like one better, use it. The important point is that you have to have malware/virus protection.

Use a three prong approach to keep your system safe: educate, protect, monitor. Try to understand the types of threats to your computer. The more educated and informed, the better you can protect your system. Monitor for threats and scan your system often. If it looks suspicious, don’t open the email, go to the site or download the file or software.

Please be watchful of the sites you visit, the software you download and the email you open as the threats to your system change daily.

Managing Rows and Columns in Excel

January 27, 2011

Excel[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Guest author David H. Ringstrom, CPA, www.accountingadvisors.com

Users often hide rows or columns in a spreadsheet to conceal private data, or perhaps just to keep a large spreadsheet manageable. This is a helpful feature in Excel, but many users often go about managing rows the hard way:

Excel 2007 or later: In the Cells section of the Home tab choose Format, Hide & Hide, and then make a selection as to what to hide or unhide.

Excel 2003 and earlier: Choose Row or Column and then Hide or Unhide, respectively. 

Hiding rows is fairly straight forward, as you can select the rows or columns, and then carry out the aforementioned menu command. To unhide rows or columns, you must select rows above and below the hidden section, or columns to the left and right of the hidden section, and then carry out the menu command.

Constantly navigating the menus to hide and unhide rows or columns can put unnecessary wear-and-tear on your wrists, but there are some easier alternatives. For instance, these keyboard shortcuts work in all versions of Excel:

  • Press Ctrl-9 to hide a row or , as oppoCtrl-Shift-9 to unhide a row.
  • Press Ctrl-0 (zero) and Ctrl-Shift-0 (zero) to  hide or unhide columns.

In both cases, make sure to use the numbers at the top of your keyboardsed to the number pad at the right of your keyboard.

Many users are particularly bedeviled when they need to unhide selected rows or columns within a hidden area of a worksheet. Typically they unhide all rows and columns in the affected section, and then rehide what they don’t need. Consider this surgical approach in all versions of Excel instead:

  1. Press F5 to display the Go To dialog box.
  2. Enter the address of the cell or cells that you want to unhide, such as A1 if you want to unhide a single row or column, D1:G1 if you want to unhide several columns, or A5:A10 if you want to unhide several rows, and then click OK.
  3. Use the keyboard shortcuts or menu commands I mentioned above to unhide the desired portion of your worksheet.

If you need to frequently hide and unhide sections of a spreadsheet, try the Group and Outline feature instead. First, select one or more rows or columns, and then carry out these steps:

Excel 2007 and later: On the Data tab of the ribbon, choose Group in the Outline section.

Excel 2003 and earlier: Choose Data, Group and Outline, and then Group.

Once you do so, a button with a minus sign will appear outside the worksheet frame. Click this button to collapse (or hide) the rows or columns. The minus sign will change to a plus that allows you to expand that section. Or use the 1 and 2 buttons at the top left-hand corner of the screen to expand or collapse all grouped columns or rows in the spreadsheet. To remove the outlining, select the grouped rows or columns, and then choose the Ungroup command on the aforementioned menus.

David H. Ringstrom, CPA heads up Accounting Advisors, Inc., an Atlanta-based spreadsheet and database consulting and training firm. Contact David at david@accountingadvisors.com or visit www.accountingadvisors.com.

Living on the Edge with Your Data Backup and Recovery Strategy?

January 5, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]One of the biggest risks you can take is not backing up your data.  Sure, you may never experience a disk failure, but if you do it will be a disaster.  Ask anyone who has suffered a data loss and they will tell you about the distress and panic when they realized that the data was gone forever.  Data loss can devastate your operations and cripple your organization.  But for a problem with such disastrous results, it has an easy fix. 

Backing up data is relatively easy and economical on the front side and provides an easy recovery method in case of a disk loss or failure.  Backup costs are a fraction of recovery costs and sometimes no amount of money or effort can recover data from a severely damaged disk.  

Today’s technology provides many cost-effective ways to protect your data.  For a business system, start with a strategy that uses the concept of redundancy to duplicate data, employs a serious backup method and includes disaster recovery.  Your data backup strategy should be proportional to the value of your data.  Don’t cut corners, be sure to include any data that is essential to your business or would be difficult to reconstruct.

So why doesn’t every business have a good backup plan that works?   Either it’s too expensive or too complicated.  Backup doesn’t have to be expensive, but it has to be executed and verified on a regular schedule.  If you manage and verify your backup daily then you can choose less expensive technology.

Backup doesn’t have to be complicated, but automated solutions cost more. If you want a solution that takes most of the guess-work out of backups and gives disaster recovery protection, they are available but will cost considerably more. 

It is important to choose the technology and strategy that works for you.  Always be diligent in performing and storing your backups. Below we discuss some of the most used concepts and technologies.  

Disk Redundancy – Writing to two or more disks at the same time, provides data protection in case of a disk failure.  A redundant array of inexpensive disks (RAID) will divide and replicate data so that a single or minority of disk failure does not cause data loss.  RAID technology is mostly employed on servers and data storage devices.  It can be hardware or software configured.  Although RAID does give a level of protection against data loss, it does not replace backing up your data.

Primary Data Backup – The data storage or repository can be tape, disk-to-disk and/or virtual tape using an external drive (SAN, NAS or USB) used to store the backup. The backup scheme can be full, incremental, differential or continuous.  Each scheme has individual requirements that may include software to create the storage archive. 

Secondary Data Backup – This is usually an offsite disk-to-disk or online backup plan, but can be another method that gives a second copy of the repository. Online backup services are very affordable and keep a near real-time copy of files.  A limitation of online backup is bandwidth.  For large stores of data, the initial upload can take considerable time.  Some services allow you to send a disk with the base files then only changes are uploaded. 

Disaster Recovery – This allows you to build your system from the ground up.  Often a disaster recovery plan includes an image (complete and exact copy of the disk(s) on your system) and a current backup.  Images include the operating system, configuration, licenses, applications and data.  Images are often called a “bare metal” restore because they allow you to overlay the image onto a new system without any prior installation of an operating system or software. 

Protecting User Data – Users should save data to a shared network drive and be included in the backup.  If there are files that are only on a laptop or desktop, they should be backed up individually. This can be done easily with an external drive or online file backup.

 A common data backup and recovery configuration for a server:

  1. Data Redundancy as RAID 10 – Mirrored and striped sets in a 2 disk array.
  2. Primary Data Backup – Network Attached Storage (NAS) using Windows Server 2008 Backup.
  3. Secondary Data Backup – Online backup service backing up all critical files.
  4. Disaster Recovery – Full image stored offsite. 

This is not an exhaustive list of available backup methods.  Data backup has many parts, facets and options.  For a good data backup strategy, start with an overview of your system and decide your level of involvement.  From there, you can build a backup strategy and disaster recovery plan so that in the event of a data loss, you are protected. 

If you have comments or need help formulating a plan, contact me at mary@lansystems.com.

For more technical notes and information go to: www.lansystems.com/technotes.html

One-Third of World Spam

December 28, 2010

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]With the arrest of Oleg Nikolaenko, the young Russian responsible for billions of spam messages each day, the world is wondering what it would be like with one-third less spam.

There are over 250 billion email messages sent each day. With 86,400 seconds in a day, that’s about 3 million email messages a second.  Conservatively, 80% is spam.  That means that 2.5 million emails each second are spam.  Many of those emails are caught by spam filters, but the spam that makes it to inboxes still cause major problems.  Spam is profitable and despite the repeated warnings, people still click on spam.

Ordering pharmaceuticals or fake Rolex watches from spam hurts you in two ways. First, they take your money for the item and you get an empty box if you get anything at all.  And second, you can be highjacked and become part of the botnet.  A botnet is like the Borg for computers. Your computer is taken over and does what it is commanded to do – send more spam!

Botnets sound like science-fiction, but they do exist and have attacked millions of computers.  Most infections occur on home or small business computers and start with a computer that does not have an adequate firewall or anti-malware protection. At one time, Oleg’s Mega-D botnet had over a hundred thousand infected computers sending billions of spam messages each day.

So will the world see a reduction in spam?  Probably not, but it does give pleasure to all the haters-of-spam that at least one culprit is behind bars. For now, he’s being held without bail.  I don’t know if Federal prisons still serve Spam, but he could develop a newfound love for fried Spam, Spam sandwiches and Spam with eggs.

If you have suggestions or comments, please contact me at: mary@lansystems.com.

For more technical notes and information go to: www.lansystems.com/technotes.html

What hackers want

November 5, 2010

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Especially after someone has been the victim of a hacking attack, they want to know why. Hackers have many motives and trying to decipher their behavior is complicated. The classification of white hats, black hats, grey hats and such is an interesting attempt to legitimatize electronic spying and sabotage.  Perhaps there are “good hackers” that perform a valuable service, but most attacks are malicious in nature.  Generally, hackers want to take something from you, teach you a lesson or show their programming skills.

Taking something from you.  This can be financial information, social media login and password, your time or your peace of mind.  Many victims of infections that cause pop-ups with objectionable material are traumatized.  They often react like the victim of a physical crime.  Anyone that has been hit with difficult to remove malware knows that it can be time-consuming and expensive to remove the infection.

Teaching you a lesson.  Hacking may have started as practical jokes that exploited vulnerabilities for pleasure and recognition, but it has grown into an industry that steals billions of dollars of productivity each year. The pranks of today can cause great harm, intended or not.  A recent Twitter Prank illustrated how disruptive it can be to “play around” on the Internet. Some may find justification for causing disruption in that they are just exposing vulnerabilities, but it is harmful and illegal.  Malware is vandalism.

The best defense is a good offense.  Implement appropriate protections for your electronics.  Computer or cyber security takes many of its strategies from the physical world.  You use locks for your house and car.  You may have an alarm system, but the amount of protection is related to the value of the property.  For instance, Fort Knox has fences and armed guards that protect the fortress.  You should use the same strategy to protect your computer systems – the more valuable the information, the more you should invest in protection.

Vulnerabilities, Threats and Consequences (VTC).  Determine the assets to protect and then analyze the vulnerabilities, threats and consequences. Just like with your physical property, use your assessment of the risk to determine the protection. Start with a review of your firewall and make sure you have a good backup of your system.  Backups are an essential part of a disaster recovery plan and are especially economical if you ever have to restore.  Also, use a malware protector in addition to your spam and virus protection. You may want to double-up on the malware protection.  For many companies, enterprise level protection is essential.  Protection includes content filtering in addition to the essential spam, virus, spyware, adware and ransomware protection.

It is difficult to stay ahead of the hackers.  There are so many of them and they spend a great deal of time working on the next attack.  Certainly, if that effort was put to positive use, we would be on the way to solving world hunger.  But meanwhile, use practical computer measures to protect yourself, your company and your family.

If you have suggestions or comments, please contact me at: mary@lansystems.com.

Hard drive basics: Data in motion

July 29, 2010

[tweetmeme source=”LANSystems” only_single=false]Today’s electronics go with us everywhere and keep us connected.  We are accustomed to using our electronics while moving, but not all devices are designed to be used on the go. Hard drives have moving parts and that is an important point to remember.

As a refresher, let’s simply look at how a hard drive (sometimes called a hard disc) works.  The drive includes a platter to hold the data, a head to read the data and electronics to control the process.  The platter is mirror smooth and stores the magnetized data. If you have never seen the inside of a hard drive, the surface looks like a mirror.  The head is attached to an arm that rides just above the platter surface.  If the head touches the platter, damage and data lose almost always occurs.  The electronics control the storage and retrieval of data.

Servers, workstations and desktops are stationary units.  You should never move them while the unit is on. When the unit is off, the head is “parked” so that it will not accidently touch the platter.  Vibrations can also cause the head to impact the platter, so it is important not to install computers in areas that can shake them.  For instance, don’t locate computers near air conditioner compressors or other motorized equipment.  If you can’t eliminate the vibrations, consider installing a vibration pad.

Notebooks, laptops and netbooks are often used as mobile devices, but are still susceptible to hard drive damage.  Many high-end or hardened mobile computers have motion sensing protection.  This protection will temporarily stop or park the head to prevent damage.  Sophisticated motion protection is available but adds cost. Vibration pads are a lower cost option.  In general, your mobile computer should be used on a stationary surface.

Camcorders and other mobile devices with hard drives have a suspension system and sensors that protect the hard drive in case of sudden acceleration.  This safeguards the data by keeping the head from touching the platter even if the unit is dropped.  This often works very well, but is not an absolute guarantee that the hard drive will not be damaged.

To protect your data, always use care when operating and make sure you have a good backup!

For more technical notes and information go to: www.lansystems.com/technotes.html

If you have any questions or comments, email me at: mary@lansystems.com.