Archive for the ‘Computer Support’ 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  If you are out of date, follow the instructions and consider turning on automatic updates.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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Hard Drive Prices Skyrocket

December 8, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]By now you have heard that hard disk drive (HDD) prices are increasing rapidly because of widespread flooding in Thailand. The monsoons of 2011 brought factory production to a standstill. The human toll has been devastating as hundreds have perished and millions have been displaced. The World Bank estimates the financial loss at 45 billion dollars making this the fourth most costly disaster in history. Thailand is the second largest exporter of HDD producing about 40% of the world’s HDD.  It is surpassed only by Singapore.

Supply and demand economics govern computer electronics and the inelasticity is apparent in much higher prices at least for the short term.  Not surprisingly, prices have doubled and tripled for HDD in the recent weeks. There are several price watch sites to compare prices online. For now, the estimates of when full production will return in Thailand are pessimistic.  The supply will return as Thailand plants resume production and competing manufacturers ramp up, but prices may be inflated for an extended period depending upon how the global market responds.

So what should you do without jeopardizing your system or data integrity?

Don’t want to pay more – If you are price inelastic, meaning you don’t want to pay even a small increase for a server, PC or HDD, wait to make a purchase and monitor prices.  Only choose this option if you can safely delay making an IT purchase without losing productivity or data integrity. Remember that a few hours of being “down” can cost considerably more than the price of new hardware.

Have to purchase now – If you have to make a purchase, spend time comparing prices to get the best deal.  You can explore the refurbished market for cost savings, but even those markets have sharply increased.

Buying refurbished electronics – If you buy a refurbished HDD, be sure that it has a warranty and that you have a spare.  Think about your backup and redundancy needs and be sure that you are covered in case of unexpected failure.

Compromise and choose less capacity – You may be able to choose a smaller hard drive for a price you are comfortable with and look to upgrade later.   Only choose this option if less capacity works for you without lots of extra work.  You can easily spend the cost of the HDD in administration costs to move and verify data.

As always, make sure that you have a good backup, just in case.

A Giant Leap for Quantum Computing

July 24, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Today’s computers are the product of a digital revolution.  When we talk about computing, we talk about an environment of ones and zeroes that add up to all the programs, graphics and communications that we use. Often we tease, it’s just ones and zeroes but that small concept has enormous and far-reaching implications. 

In the early days of computers, there was a competition between analog and digital computing for a practical, supportable, calculating machine.  Actually, analog computers go back to ancient times and were used to calculate the position of stars and planets.  Probably the most familiar example of an analog computer is a slide rule. But as analog slide rules were replaced by digital calculators so were analog computers replaced by its digital competitor. Analog computers are powerful because they have multiple states and are not constrained by just ones and zeroes.  They can solve very complex equations. But in that power is a complicated framework not easy to mass produce.  Transistors and later solid state and integrated circuit technology made the digital computer ubiquitous.

The digital computer has a new competitor in the quantum computer. Quantum computing is not really new, the concept has been around since the 1970s, but it is a complicated structure based on quantum mechanics. Most of the work in quantum computing has been theoretical because the technology was not available to take the idea from a dream to reality. 

The recent announcement that Lockheed Martin will purchase a quantum computer from D-Wave Systems is a giant leap for this emerging technology.  Experts are already speculating on the quantum gains in computing speed as exponential and tens of thousands of times as fast as the fastest digital computer.  It is an exciting time to be a technology aficionado. It is a time when anything is possible and the universe has no limits.

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!

Get In Touch With Your Creative Side Using Microsoft Office

February 23, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Not that long ago, the only way to get high-quality, professional materials was through a graphic designer.  Printing was a complicated, expensive process that was left to the print shops.  Each project required assembling pictures, graphics and content that was camera-ready. 

Today, we have access to everything needed to make agency-quality marketing materials with full-color and amazing graphics. Brochures, mailers and newsletters can be printed on-demand or in the perfect quantity to reducing waste and keep the offering fresh.  To save more and reach the online audience, electronic files are brilliant and easy to distribute.  If you have an idea, a good eye and the right tools, you can make magic. 

Microsoft Office offers the right tools with its Office 2010 Suite of Applications.  Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Publisher provide improved and enhanced features for creating and publishing. Many of the features are cross-platform so you can learn a skill in one application and use it in another.  There are a host of classes for beginner, intermediate and advanced users that can be taken in a classroom environment or online depending on your best learning method.  Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and others offer free, online classes that are perfect for the self-learner.

Word is the standard for creating and formatting documents of all types from simple letters to documents with a table of contents, index and glossary. It makes the task of creating and editing documents easy.  Tools like spell check and thesaurus make us look smart and polished. New and improved photo-editing tools let you transform pictures right in Word 2010 – no extra software needed. Change color saturation, temperature, brightness, and contrast to turn a simple Word document into a work of art.  Turn text into visual effects with enhanced text effects and SmartArt graphics. Change basic bullet-points into compelling visuals and add text effects like shadow, glow, reflection, and 3-D in just a few clicks.  With co-authoring, you can edit at the same time as others, even if you’re working from different locations, and keep versions in sync with version control. This is a great way to eliminate typos (ever used a there for their or your for you’re?) by having others review your work for content and correctness.

PowerPoint is not just for presentations, it also makes a great coordinating tri-fold or handout.  Use the same theme for marketing materials that you can leave with the prospect to reinforce your message and offering. Creating your presentation in PowerPoint allows you to gather all your thoughts and ideas in one tool.  You have many slide choices and can move, cut, paste and organize to create a coherent flow of information without leaving the program.  Adding graphics, diagrams, video and sound is easier than ever. 

Excel graphs, charts and sparklines explain trends and comparisons with strong visuals.  Whenever numbers are involved, visuals are powerful tools to simplify the message and give at-a-glance significance. Use sparklines to graphically display data in a single cell.  You can display data in line, column or win/loss format to highlight trends.

Publisher helps you create eye-catching brochures, newsletters, postcards, greeting cards and email messages.  With the built-in and online templates, you can find a style for any publication. The prebuilt building blocks give an assortment of page parts like sidebars, stories and columns for creating professional newsletters and case studies. Add calendars, borders and advertisement blocks for community or school newsletters. Stunning graphics and images are easily added and use OpenType typography for expert typesetting effects.

Get your creative juices flowing! Experiment with different looks and practice with different styles.  Start with a concept and use Microsoft Office 2010 to create brilliant, flawless materials for your home, school or business.

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

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.

Updating your Microsoft Windows System

January 26, 2011

[tweetmeme source=LANSystems only_single=false]Protect your system by investing the time to update Windows. It is quick and easy.  In order to prevent attacks, you have to keep your computer updated.  Most infections are preventable and occur because of unpatched security holes.  Don’t let your system fall victim, spend a little quality-time with your computer today! 

Check your update status – Go to Microsoft Update and choose the Express option.   This works for 99% of the systems.  It will evaluate your operating system status and recommend the necessary updates. Microsoft will identify the high-priority updates needed for your system. If you haven’t updated your system recently, there may be several listed.  Be sure to apply all the recommended critical updates.  From this dashboard, you will be able to review your update history and get support. This is a good time to verify your backup or restore point. 

Turn on automatic updates – If your computer is not set to receive notifications when new updates are available, turn the feature on. You will see a screen message to “Help protect your PC” on the right-hand side of the Welcome to Microsoft Updates screen and can turn on the Automatic Update feature by clicking the box  Choose a time to install automatically or choose when you will manually install updates.  Critical updates may require a reboot so choose a time that your computer will be on but will not interrupt your work. You can also complete these actions from Control Panel. Screen shots are Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 look a bit different.

For LAN Systems support customers, these tasks and checks are done for you but it never hurts to double-check your settings.  Updates are essential for your home system.  Most attacks are against home systems because they are more often out-of-date. 

For added protection, use Microsoft Security Essentials. Take a few minutes to update your system and if you have questions or need help, please feel free to contact us at 770 662-0312 or HelpDesk@lansystems.com.