How to Encrypt Your Email

June 28, 2017

In past newsletters, we have told you how email is not a secure form of communication. As an email travels from one sever to another, it can be intercepted and read by programs (called bots) that harvest information from email. We told you to never send sensitive or important information of any kind through email. We have been asked several times if there’s a way to set up secure email. The answer was always, yes, but it’s not easy and it probably doesn’t work like you think it would.

Recently, however, we have been testing a Firefox add-on called “Encrypted  Communication”. This add-on is limited in what it will work with and there are still extra steps you have to go through. But using this add-on, you can indeed send an encrypted email.

First, you need Firefox (http://www.getfirefox.com) and you have to install the “Encrypted Communications” add-on(https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/encrypted-communication/).  Next, you must be using webmail. You can’t be using Windows 10 Mail, Thunderbird, Windows Live Mail, Outlook, or anything like that. You must be using the webmail interface to your email, which all email has. To access your webmail, open Firefox. In the top address bar (not the search bar) enter the address for your webmail. Here is a very partial list of the most popular ones.

If your email address ends with Go to
Gmail.com http://www.gmail.com
Yahoo.com, att.net, sbcglobal.net, prodigy.net http://mail.yahoo.com
Austin.rr.com http://mail.twc.com
Hotmail.com, outlook.com, msn.com, live.com http://www.outlook.com
AOL http://mail.aol.com

Once you have Firefox and Encrypted Communications all set up, use Firefox to access your webmail. Compose a new email. When you are ready to send, right-click anywhere in the body of the message and choose Encrypt Communication. It will then ask you for a password. STOP!!

Make sure you use a good password. The longer the better. It should include multiple uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. There should not be any words in it that appear in the dictionary. It should not include any names of any kind. It should not relate to any information about you (dates of birth, phone numbers, kid’s birthdays, street address, etc.). Can’t think of a good password? Use a password generator to make this easy https://www.roboform.com/password-generator.
Use a password manager to safely store and manage your passwords.
For more information about how to create a good password, read this article on our website. For more information about password managers, read this article on our website.

If I didn’t make that clear, make sure you use a good password. It will ask you to verify the password, so you’ll have to enter it twice. After that, your email is now encrypted. You can now press the send button.

Now, the person you are sending the email to will also have to use Firefox. They will also have to have the Encrypted Communication add-on installed. And, you will have to tell them what the password is for that email. No, don’t email them the password. Call them, text them, send them a letter, whatever. Assuming the recipient of the email has all of that, they will get an email that looks like a bunch of random characters. All they have to do is right-click on the body of the message and choose Decyrpt Communication. It will then prompt them for the password. Once the correct password is entered, the email will be readable. If they close the email and re-open it, they will have to re-input the password.

So, there you have it. You can send encrypted email. And that means absolutely nobody can read that email except you and the recipient, right? Unfortunately, no. Encrypting an email as described above will prevent almost everyone from reading it, but not everyone. The NSA, for example, can get around just about any type of encryption according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

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Yet Another RansomWare

June 28, 2017

Last month we had the WannaCry Ransomware attack. WannaCry was squashed by the discovery of a “kill switch” that killed WannaCry. But now, this month, there’s a new one called Petya. Like WannaCry, Petya has mostly affected Europe. However, it has affected the US. One of the victims in the US was the Pennsylvania’s Heritage Valley Health System. No “kill switch” has been found for Petya yet, but it’s only been a couple of days. Hopefully they will find one and kill it.

We like to keep you informed about this because we have several customers who have lost important data to RansomWare infections. RansomWare doesn’t reveal itself until it’s too late. It works in the background encrypting your files and once encrypted, it reveals itself. At that point, you have two options. You can pay the ransom, or restore from backup.

We strongly discourage everyone from paying the Ransom. Don’t let these criminals profit from their crimes. That’s why it’s so important to have a good backup. But not all types of backups protect you from RansomWare. If you back up to an external hard drive, for example, RansomWare will encrypt that too so you won’t be able to restore from backup.

You need a backup that can restore previous versions of files. That’s why we recommend Carbonite for residential customers and CrashPlan for business customers. These online backup services allow you to restore previous versions of files. This is important because when the RansomWare encrypts your files, those encrypted files are backed up. Even to services like Carbonite and CrashPlan. That’s why you have to be able to restore previous versions of files because the most recent version that was backed up was encrypted by the RansomWare.

But having a good backup is Plan B. Plan A is preventing the RansomWare infection in the first place. That’s where really good security is a must. The best security you can get is through our Security And Maintenance (SAM) plan. Not one computer covered under the SAM plan has ever had its files encrypted. We had one SAM customer who got one of those fake emails from Fedex and opened the attachment. The RansomWare got on his computer, but our security kept it from encrypting his files so all we had to do was remove the RansomWare.

In summary, make sure you have good security to avoid RansomWare, be careful what you click on and what you open, and make sure you have a good backup system that allows you to restore previous versions of files. Do that, you will lessen your chances of getting a RansomWare infection, but if you do, your data is protected.

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2017 Scam Update

May 12, 2017

The most pervasive scam that we here at Cyber Tek Computer Pros have seen in the last year is what we call Fake Microsoft. You may encounter them in several different ways.

You may get a call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft, Windows Support, or something like that. Often they have a foreign accent. Although they claim to be Windows Support, they aren’t. It’s a scam. Don’t believe anything they say about your computer. DO NOT LET THEM GET ON YOUR COMPUTER. If you let them on your computer, they will put a system password on your computer and you won’t be able to use your computer. Microsoft will never call you out of the blue unless you called them first.

If you are surfing the web and a page comes up and says there’s a problem with your computer and to call Microsoft (or Windows Support) at the following number, don’t call it. It’s a fake web page. The number goes to Fake Microsoft too. A web page can’t know the health of your computer. Don’t believe anything it says about your computer. These web pages make it so you can’t leave the web page. Most of the time, rebooting your computer will fix this.

Don’t look up phone numbers for computer/printer support organizations on Google or any other search engine. Instead, go to their website and find their number there. The reason is that if you search for Microsoft Support phone number, HP Support phone number, Dell Support phone number, or any other support phone number. The first ones you find will be Fake Microsoft. If you call them, you’ll be sorry.

If you let Fake Microsoft onto your computer and now you can’t use it, give us a call and we can fix it for you.

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Use Your Computer to Help the World

May 10, 2017

How many hours a day do you use your computer? That answer can vary from just a few minutes to all day. During that time when you aren’t using it, did you know that your computer could be helping to cure cancer, analyze the Earth’s climate, find life on other planets, cure AIDS, or do any number of other things to help mankind? It’s true.

As you probably remember, we generally recommend that you leave your computer on all of the time so that your computer can do updates and maintenance when you aren’t using the computer. That way, your computer is the fastest and most up-to-date that it can be when you are using it. Why not have your computer doing something useful when you aren’t using it?

This is done through something called Distributed Computing. Traditionally, if you wanted to crunch data, you would run it through a big powerful server. These servers are fast, but very expensive. The idea behind distributed computing is to push pieces of the data crunching off to thousands of much less powerful computers. Each computer can crunch a small part of the data. It’s even better if people are willing to volunteer their computers to participate.

Interested in participating? All you need is BOINC! BOINC stands for Berkely Open Infrastructure for Network Computing. It’s a software program you can install on your computer that will allow you to participate in distributed computing. You decide which projects your computer is used for. You decide when and how much of your computer will be used.

I have been using BOINC and participating in this since 1999. Wow! 18 years. Hard to believe. My level of participate has fluctuated over the years. Sometimes I just have one computer running BOINC. Sometimes several. Right now, I have 4 computers running it at different levels.

There are lots of projects to choose from. Projects are in areas like biology and medicine, astronomy, mathematics, seismology, cryptography, cognitive science, physics, chemistry, climate, and others. I’m participating in SETI@home (looking for ET), World Community Grid (looking for cures to diseases), Rosetta@home (looking for cures to diseases), and climateprediction.net (trying to understand Earth’s climate).

If you are interested in participating in this, here’s how:

  1. Go to http://boinc.berkeley.edu
  2. Click on the green download button to download BOINC.
    The download page will give you the option to download BOINC by itself or BOINC plus VirtualBox. If you have this option, download BOINC+VirtualBox. If it doesn’t give you this option, just download BOINC.
  3. After downloading it, you’ll need to run it to install BOINC.
  4. When installing BOINC you will come to the BOINC Configuration options.

    This is a very important window and you should stop and think about how you want it to run on your computer. If you take the default options and hit next, it will install BOINC as a screensaver. That means after the mouse and keyboard have been inactive for a specified amount of time, BOINC will kick in and start processing. It will show stuff on the screen until such time that your screen turns off and it will continue to process. BOINC will replace your current screensaver.

    Note: a lot of people are confused about what a screensaver is. The background picture on your desktop is not a screensaver. That is a background picture also known as wallpaper. A screensaver is something that kicks in after the specified amount of time and shows stuff on your screen. It can be photos, bubbles, a message, stars, or any number of things.

    If you click the advanced button, you can deselect the screensaver option and select the service option. The service option means BOINC runs all of the time in the background and you will never see it show up as a screensaver. There will be an icon and messages that pop-up from time to time. In addition, installing as a service will limit what projects you can participate in. Some projects use the graphics chip on your computer for processing. If you install as a service, these projects can’t run.

    For most people, the best option will be to go the screensaver option.

  5. The rest of the installation is straightforward.
  6. Once installed, you’ll need to configure it and attach to projects.
  7. When BOINC opens, go to the projects tab, click on Tools, Add Project.
    1. Choose the project you want to add. You’ll have to create an account with each project.
    2. Once you’ve got your projects, click on Options and then Computing preferences.
      Here’s where you can specify when BOINC crunches projects and how much of your computer’s resources it uses. You can tweak these going forward until you get it the way you like it.

As always, if you need help or would like for us to install and configure BOINC for you, just let us know.

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Windows 10 Creator’s Update Breaks Windows 7 Games

May 4, 2017

Windows 10 doesn’t come with games like Windows 7 did. It is possible to install the games from Windows 7 on Windows 10. The problem is that every time there is a major update of Windows, Microsoft breaks those games. Intentionally. So after each major update, you have to reinstall the games.

A major update to Windows 10 called the Creator’s Update has been released and it breaks the Windows 7 games. If we had installed the Windows 7 games on your Windows 10 computer and they stopped working, let us know. We can install them again. If you have Windows 10 and want to have the Windows 7 games intalled on your computer, please let us know.

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New Type of Phish Attack

May 4, 2017

There is a new type of phishing attack you need to be aware of.

As you know, a phishing attack is when you get an email that looks like it’s from a reputable company. The email contains a link that goes to a website that will either try to infect your computer, or the website may look like the reputable company’s website and trick you into entering your user id and password, thus the criminals can then use your login id and password to login to the real website and access your account.

These phishing attacks have been around for years. You could usually spot these attacks by looking at the address of the fake website and seeing that it is not the website address of the reputable company you thought the email was from. Now some clever criminals have figured out how to make the address of the fake website look exactly like the address of the real website so it’s harder to tell if you are on the real website or a fake one.

For many years, we have been recommending that you never click on a link in a website and, instead, close the email, open up your web browser, and manually go to the company’s website. This new type of attack does not change that advise. In fact, it reinforces it.

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Business Security Software

April 27, 2017

You may be wondering what the difference is between consumer and enterprise security software. There is a big difference. The difference comes in how the software is installed, maintained, and monitored.

Enterprise Security software is targeted towards business and it makes it easy for one person to install, maintain, and monitor security software on many PC’s. In addition, enterprise security software is cheaper, per PC, than it would be to purchase a consumer license for each PC.

All of the big names in security software provide enterprise level software. They generally use the same security engines as their consumer counterparts. The big difference is in the interface, deployment, and monitoring. We haven’t tested every product, but of the ones we have tested, there is a clear winner. Vipre Advanced Security. There are two versions of Vipre Advanced Security and Vipre Endpoint Security.

Let’s look at an example of the cost using Vipre Advanced Security versus the consumer version of Vipre. Let’s say you have a small company with 10 PC’s. To purchase 10 individual licenses of the consumer version of Vipre for 1 year would be about $400. If you purchased a 10 seat license of Vipre Advanced Security, it would cost $240 as of April 2017. That’s a big savings. In addition, the Business version gives you a central place to install, monitor, and maintain Vipre on all of the PC’s. You don’t have to physically go to each PC.

If you own or work at a business that has 5 or more PC’s, we recommend  that you switch to Vipre Advanced Security as soon as possible. The security of the computers that run your business is nothing to fool around with. Do yourself, your business, and your employees a favor and switch to Vipre Advanced Security. By doing so you will save money and prevent downtime due to infections.

We can assist you in the installation of Vipre Advanced Security.

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Security Software Roundup

April 27, 2017

(Updated April 27, 2017)

This is a roundup of security software packages. For the purposes of this article, we are focusing on consumer versions targeted at residential customers and small businesses that do not have a server. We will cover business oriented security products in a separate article.

After reading this article, see what security software you have and where it falls on the list. You may also want to forward this to your friends and family so they can see where their security software falls on the list.

We evaluate based on our own tests, personal experience, customer’s experience, and reviews by other credible sources. The criteria used to evaluate these products includes:

  1. Automation. We want to set it and forget it. It should automatically update, automatically scan, and automatically clean. It should not be popping up asking us if we want to allow something or not.
  2. Configuration. Can we configure it the way we want to?
  3. User interface. Does it make sense or is it confusing?
  4. How well it prevent infections
  5. How well it removes infections
  6. Annoyance factor. We don’t want any pop-up ads. We don’t want it to constantly talk to us or ask us a lot of questions. We don’t want it to block us from doing what we need to do, as long as what we are trying to do does not infect our computer.
  7. Performance. Does it slow down our computer?
  8. Price. Is the price reasonable?

No security software gets a perfect score because none of them can completely protect your computer. Thousands of new infections come out every day. They just can’t keep up. But the better the protection, the less likely your computer is to become infected. But you don’t want to go too far and make it harder to use your computer. Computer security is a balancing act.

When you purchase security software, they usually come in different editions. You can generally get a full security suite or just the more basic protection. Most people don’t need the full security suite. It adds a lot of features you don’t need and slows your computer down even more. We generally prefer the more basic packages with a few free utilities added in for extra protection.

We have organized this list of Security software into 3 categories. Not recommended, Neutral, Free, and Recommended. In addition to these three categories of software, we are also including a section of free security add-ons that you will want to check out to help keep your computer safe from infections.

So without further Ado, here is the list!

Not Recommended

We don’t recommend using these products. If you have one of these products on your computer, we urge you switch to one of our recommended products as soon as possible.

  • Avira
    There’s a free version, a premium version for $30, an Internet Security version fo $60, and an Internet Security Plus version for $80. Doesn’t provide very good protection and tends to slow your computer down more than other products.
  • Bit Defender
    Bit Defender comes in three different editions. Antivirus Plus ($40), Internet Security($50), and Total Security ($70). One plus is that you can put it on up to 3 PC’s. Provides very good protection, but unfortunately, it slows your computer way down.
  • CA Internet Security
    They don’t sell home versions of this software anymore, but some ISP’s use it. If your ISP offers you a free version of this software, just say no. It doesn’t provide adequate protection against viruses and spyware. Slows computer down way too much.
  • Comodo
    Comodo makes an antivirus, firewall, anti-malware, anti spam, and Internet Security. All are free. We like their firewall, although most people don’t need a software firewall. The other components provide OK protection, but not good protection. The biggest problem with it is all of the advertisements. It will even install other products without asking you. A big no-no. It will even change your homepage. Way too intrusive.
  • Kaspersky
    Like most of the other security products, Kaspersky comes in several different editions. Anti-virus ($60), Internet Security ($80), Pure Total Security ($90), and One Universal Security ($100). It provides good protection, but not great. The biggest problem with it is that it’s way too expensive. You can often find Kaspersky on sale on their websites and in stores, but even their sale prices are higher than most others normal prices.
  • McAfee
    Available in Anti-Virus ($50), Internet Security ($70), and Total Protection ($90) packages, there was a time long ago when McAfee was our favorite. But somewhere along the line McAfee got the whole idea of security backwards. Most security products try to prevent viruses in order to allow you to do what you need to do on your computer. McAfee, instead, seems to do it’s best to prevent you from doing what you need to do while letting infections right onto your system. McAfee is one of our least favorite security products at this time.
  • Panda Internet Security (Paid version only)
    Basic protection for $50. Internet security suite for $70, and Global Proection for $80 and they recently released a free version. You can put the paid version on up to 3 PC’s, but again it’s more expensive than a Vipre Home Site license. The paid version provides good protection but too intrusive and annoying. Slow performance too. Another thing I don’t like is when you purchase online they try and throw in all of these extra’s like Extended Money Back Guarantee for $6 and Extended Download Service for $10. Ridiculous!
  • PC Tools
    Their editions are called Spyware Doctor ($40), Spyware Doctor with Antivirus ($50), and Internet Security ($60).Spyware Doctor only protects against spyware, so you’ll have to combine it with another antivirus. Each of these products can be installed on up to 3 computers, which makes the price good. These products offer good protection, but slow your computer down.
  • Trend Micro Internet Security
    Trend Micro’s home security products have the name Titanium. There are four editions of Titaniam. Antivirus ($40), Internet Security ($80), Maximum ($90), and Premium ($100). Slows your computer way down. Too intrusive. Not very good protection.
  • Spybot Search and Destroy
    Spybot is free for home use. There was a time when we recommended Spybot Search and Destroy, but times have changed. This product has not kept up with the times. It only provides mediocre protection with an antiquated user interface and it only protects against spyware, not viruses.
  • Ad-Aware
    The story for Ad-Aware is similar to Spybot Search and Destroy. There was a time when we recommended it, but not anymore. Although Ad-Aware’s user interface is much better than Spybot’s, like Spybot, it only provides mediocre protection. They now have paid versions. One called Personal Security ($12) and the other Pro Security ($36). They are cheap, but we don’t recommend them.
  • Webroot
    Like most of the other security companies, Webroot makes several versions of their security software. It provides pretty good protection, but not quite as good as our recommended products. Their three home products are Antivirus($40), Internet Security Plus($60), and Internet Security Complete($80).
  • Microsoft Security Essentials (free)
    Can only be used on Windows Vista and Windows 7. We recommend you combine this product with an Anti-Spyware product like SuperAntiSpyware or MalwareBytes because although it does a good job against viruses, it doesn’t do as good a job with spyware which is a bigger problem than viruses these days. The one feature that it offers that the other free products don’t is that you can use it on commercial computers.
  • Windows Defender
    Windows Defender is the security software built-in to all versions of Windows starting with Windows 8. On it’s own, it does not provide adaquate protection.

Neutral Products

These products offer pretty good protection, but have some issues. If you have one of these products, then you probably don’t need to switch right away but we recommend you switch when your current subscription expires.

  • AVG (Free and paid editions)
    Provides good protection if you change the settings to be more aggressive. You’ll need to change the advanced settings after install it to tell it to provide better protection. When major revisions of AVG come out, the free version won’t automatically update to it. You will have to manually download and upgrade. The free version of AVG is very intrusive. Pop’s up ads frequently. Also tries to trick you into getting paid version by converting free version to trial version.  Then the trial runs out and wants you to renew, even though you never bought it in the first place.
  • SuperAntiSpyware
    The interface is kind of clunky and is lacking some minor features. But although it’s not fancy, it does an excellent job of protecting against and cleaning up spyware. But not viruses. That’s why it should be used in conjunction with another security product. Most security products protect against both viruses and spyware. So there’s really no reason to have this additional product. The one thing this product is good for is removing spyware from an infected computer. But you can use their free version for that. No need to pay $30. The free version should not be your primary protection since it does not provide active protection and does not protect you from viruses.
  • MalwareBytes
    Even though it’s got a cute name, chances are, you’ve never heard of MalwareBytes, but it provides very good protection. But like SuperAntiSpyware, it only protects against spyware, not viruses, and must be combined with another product to fully protect your system. So why bother with it. Like SuperAntiSpyware, it is also good for cleaning an infected system, but you can use the free version for that, so no need to pay $25 for it. The free edition doesn’t provide active protection and thus does not prevent infections.
  • Norton
    There was a time when Norton was at the bottom of our list because it was too restrictive and slowed your computer WAY DOWN. But in the last two years, Symantec has really made strides in improving it and they have done a good job. In fact, last year, it was on our recommended list. However, in recent months we have seen a lot of infected computers come in that had Norton on them. I guess the hackers have figured out how to get around it. Since Norton is the best selling security product, it makes sense that the hackers would go after it. They have three editions. AntiVirus ($50 for one computer), Internet Security ($80 for up to 3 computers), and 360 ($90 for up to 5 computers).
  • Panda Cloud Antivirus Free Edition
    Good protection for the casual, non-adventurous user. There is a pro version that costs $30, but don’t bother. The nice thing about this one is that it is so easy to use. Basically, you don’t have to do anything. This is nice most of the time, but if it blocks something it shouldn’t, then telling it to not block it can be a pain. It’s pop-ups are really annoying.

Recommended Free Products

In recent years, some free antivirus products have really improved. So much so that they are probably fine for most home users who aren’t too adventurous on the Internet.

Here are our favorite free products:

  • Avast Free Edition
    Good protection. Requires that you register your email address and receive a license. It talks to you telling you that Avast has been updated. Some people find that annoying. Note that there is a free version for businesses too.

Recommended Products (Paid)

Although not perfect, these products are the best available in our experience. These are the products we use on our systems. these are the products we recommend to all of our friends, family, and customers.They are in order starting with our highest recommendation

  • Cyber Tek Computer Pros Security And Maintenance (SAM) Plan
    Our SAM plan offers the ultimate protection plus a lot more including free infection removal if your computer does become infected. Click here for more information our this service plan.

  • Vipre
    Vipre comes in two flavors. For $40 you get Vipre Antivirus which protects against viruses, spyware, and rootkits. For $50, you can get Vipre Internet Security which adds a firewall and other protection. We recommend Vipre Antivirus over the Intenet Security version. Vipre provides very good protection and doesn’t slow your computer down much.One of the best things about Vipre is you can purchase a Home Site License which allows you to install it on up to 10 computers. A Home Site License for Vipre Antivirus is $60, $70 for Vipre Internet Security.Another good thing about Vipre is that if your computer does become infected, you can call their support line and they will try to remove the virus for you at no additional charge. I’m not aware of any other company that will do that. The reason they can do it is because Vipre provides such good protection. Like anything, it’s not perfect, but it provides the best protection for the money and the best features.You can purchase Vipre or Vipre Premium from us.

  • ESET
    ESET’s products are NOD32 Antivirus ($40) and Smart Security ($60). They provide very good protection without slowing down your computer a lot. The interface is OK.
    You can purchase ESET products at www.eset.com.

Free Add On Products

Whether you use a free security product or a paid one, we recommend that you use these two free add-on security products.

  • uBlock
    Some security software includes ad blocking functionality, but most don’t. None of our recommended security products include it. We recommend blocking ads because many infections get on computers through third party web banner advertisements. But never fear, you can get free ad blocking software for your browser as long as you don’t use Internet Explorer or Edge. We recommend you use Google Chrome or Firefox as  your browser and install the uBlock add-on.
  • BitDefender TrafficLight
    This add-on isn’t available for Internet Explorer or Edge. It helps keep you from going to an infected website. Again, we recommend Google Chrome or Firefox with this add-on installed.

Computer security is a balancing act. Not enough security and your computer can easily become infected. Too much, and your computer can become slow and hardly usable.

The bottom line is that we recommend you use one of our recommended products (free or paid) and then add on ad blocking and website rating software.

2

Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead… Almost.

March 28, 2017

Windows Vista, considered by many to be the most hated and berated version of Windows, will officially die on April 11th.

In case you don’t remember, Microsoft hurried Vista to market in 2006 because it had been 5 years since they released Windows XP and they wanted to get a new version out ASAP. That turned out to be a mistake because they rushed it to market before it was ready and it had A LOT OF PROBLEMS.

Once Microsoft ironed out all of the problems, it actually became a good version of Windows. But most people couldn’t forget how it was when it was first released, and so the hatred continued. Actually, the version of Windows that I thought was the worst was Windows ME which came out in 2000. It was far worse than Vista and never got fixed. Just replaced by Windows XP.

Enough of the history lesson. The purpose of this article is to let you know that April 11th is what Microsoft calls the end of support for Windows Vista. What that means is that from that date forward, Microsoft will no longer release security updates for Windows Vista. And that means that from that date forward, it will become more and more dangerous to use Windows Vista on the Internet.

In fact, several software vendors have already discontinued support of their products on Vista. For example, you can’t install the latest version of Adobe Reader or Google Chrome on Vista.

You may think I’m like Chicken Little crying that the sky is falling. Because the Internet is a dangerous place that is getting more dangerous each year, you have to keep up with the latest versions in order to reduce the risk. You may be thinking that your computer is safe because you have security software. Think again. In order to reduce the risk of damage to your computer, security software by itself isn’t enough. You have to keep programs like Flash, Java, & Reader up-to-date. You have to keep your browser up-to-date. And you have to a version of Windows for which Microsoft is fixing security vulnerabilities as they are discovered.

Even with all of these preventative measures, you are still vulnerable. But leave out any of these preventative measures and your vulnerability increases exponentially.

If you have a computer with Windows Vista on it, we recommend replacing it as soon as you are able to. It doesn’t necessarily have to be by April 11th, but don’t wait more than a month or two after that.

We don’t recommend this, but if you insist on using Windows Vista after April 11th, here are some rules to follow to help reduce your risk a little:

  1. Make sure you have good antivirus software that is up-to-date and not expired. If you are using Microsoft Security Essentials to protect your computer, uninstall it and install Avast Free Version.
  2. Don’t use Internet Explorer or Google Chrome. Use Firefox. (http://www.getfirefox.com).
    Install uBlock and TrafficLight add-on’s for more security.
  3. Don’t open PDF files on your computer.
  4. Use a good online backup service that protects against RansomWare attacks. We recommend Carbonite (http://www.carbonite.com).

As usual, if you have any questions about any of this, or need any kind of help with your computer, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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Power Issues And Computers

March 2, 2017

While all electronic devices are subject to power issues, computers are much more sensitive to them than other devices. That’s why it’s important to understand these issues, and protect your computer from them.

There are several different types of power issues that can happen. Here is a list, what they are, and how they affect your computer.

  1. Power Surge
    1. What is it?
      A short term increase in voltage. Usually caused by faulty generators, air conditioners, and other devices.
    2. What can it do to my computer?
      Power surges typically will not harm a computer with a healthy power supply but if the computer’s power supply is weak or damaged by previous electrical issues, a power surge could cause it to fail.
    3. How do I protect my computer from it?
      A good surge protector or an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS).
  2. Power Spike/Impulse
    1. What is it?
      Similar to a Power Surge, but with a much more dramatic increase in voltage. Typically caused by lightning but can also happen when the power comes back on after a power outage.
    2. What can it do to my computer?
      A Power Spike can cause catastrophic damage to your computer, or any electronic device. Many people turn their computers off during a storm to protect it. But that doesn’t protect your computer from Power Spikes because your computer is still connected to the electrical grid and so the power spike has a path to get to your computer unless you have proper protection.
    3. How do I protect my computer from it?
      You can shut your computer down and unplug it from the electricity but you also have to unplug any cable that goes to your computer that is connected to a device that is plugged into an A/C plug. This includes printers, powered USB hubs, external hard drives, etc. A better way is to have a good surge protector or a UPS.
  3. Power Outage
    1. What is it?
      When the power goes completely out. Could last for a fraction of a second, or for hours or even days in extreme cases.
    2. What can it do to my computer?
      What a sudden loss of power does to a computer depends greatly on what the computer was doing at the time of the power loss. If you were editing a Word document, for example, you could lose the contents of that document. If the computer was in the middle of writing to the hard drive when the power loss occurs, it can cause corruption on the hard drive, but this is rare.
    3. How do I protect my computer from it?
      On computers with healthy power supplies and healthy hard drives, the chances of a power loss causing a problem are very slim. The only way to protect your computer is by using an UPS.
  4. Power Sag/Brown Out
    1. What is it?
      This is a short term decrease in voltage usually caused by high-demand on the electrical grid. These are rare here in central Texas but are more common in other parts of the country.
    2. What can it do to my computer?
      It can cause your computer to freeze, crash, or act weird. It can cause loss or corruption of data. It also reduces the lifespan of some electrical components like power supplies, hard drives, etc.
    3. How do I protect my computer from it?
      The only protection is a UPS.
  5. Noisy or Dirty Power
    1. What is it?
      Faulty generators, switches, nearby radio transmitters, and similar devices can cause power to contain “electrical noise” and interference.
    2. What can it do to my computer?
      It can shorten the life of your computer and cause it to act weird, suddenly shut off or reboot, or cause it to freeze or crash.
    3. How do I protect my computer from it?
      The only protection is a UPS.

As you can see from the list above, there are quite a few power related issues that can have an effect on computers and those effects can be catastrophic.

How you should protect a particular computer from these issues depends on what type of computer it is and how critical the computer is to you. First, if the computer is a laptop, then all you need is a good surge protector. That’s because a laptop has a built-in battery and so it’s not susceptible to power outages (assuming the battery isn’t defective and has a charge).

If the computer is an All-In-One or a desktop, then ask yourself what effect it would have on your life or your business if the given computer wasn’t working for a day or two. Would that be an inconvenience or would it be a big problem?

If it would be an inconvenience, then get a good surge protector that provides at least 2000 joules of protection and comes with an insurance policy for connected equipment. Don’t rely on these cheapo power strips that say they have surge protection. Their surge protection is usually not very good.

If it would be a big problem to be without a given computer for a day or two (or more), then we recommend getting a UPS. Not just any UPS. The first thing you should look for is a UPS that connects to your computer with a USB cable. This is important because when there is a power outage, your UPS can tell your computer to shut down. This prevents the computer from experiencing a sudden loss of power in the event of a power outage that lasts more than a few minutes. The other feature to look for in a UPS is the voltage. How much voltage you need depends on how much power your computer uses. This can be hard to determine. For the average computer, 550 VA should be fine. For a computer that is more powerful, you’ll need more voltage. For them, a minimum of 650VA is recommended.

When you connect a computer to a UPS, be aware that the UPS has two different types of outlets. On one side of the UPS are outlets that only have surge protection. The other side has ports that will be supported by the battery in the UPS. The computer itself and your monitor should be plugged into the battery backup outlets while all other devices should be plugged into the surge protection only outlets.

When you have a computer that is protected by a UPS that has been properly set up, you don’t have to worry about your computer. If there is a storm, the surge protection will protect it. If there is a power outage, the UPS will keep the computer from losing power and will tell the computer to shut down if the power outage lasts more than a minute or two. The only thing you have to do is remember to turn the computer back on after the power comes back on. You may be wondering why everyone doesn’t have a UPS. Two reasons. One is many people never heard of them. The other reason is that they aren’t cheap. A good surge protector is around $30. A good UPS is $80 or more.

If you are interested in getting a UPS on any of your computers, give us a call. We can install them for you and make sure they are installed and configured properly. We can even purchase the UPS for you.

And, by the way, we recommend that you have all electric devices plugged into good surge protectors. This includes TV’s, sound systems, DVD players, DVR’s, cordless phones, cell phone/tablet/laptop chargers, and so forth.

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