Computer Maintenance

Six tech resolutions for 2015

We’re one week into 2015, and even if you’re sworn off resolutions (or have already broken a few you’ve made), there are six resolutions that you really ought to make and keep.  We’re not talking about diet, exercise, or finances (though those are good too), but resolutions to keep you on top of our ever-growing digital world.

1.  Clean your gadgets. Ever looked behind your computer at the growing dust bunny colony? Yup, me too. Time to get rid of the dust and grime which can cause your computer to overheat and can slow down performance. Don’t forget to shake out your keyboard and wipe off your mouse too!  And wipe off your smartphone – scientific studies show that the average smartphone contains more than twice as many germs as a public toilet seat.

2. Back up all your devices. This includes your computer, your phone, etc. Simple rule – if you have it, back it up! There are many options for computer backup including internal, external, network drives, online services, thumb drives, and more. Check out this comprehensive list from Consumer Reports:  http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/computer-backup-systems/buying-guide.htm .   Pick one, back up your data, and protect yourself from possible loss due to a computer crash.

Your smartphone should have a cloud-based backup system (such as Google Drive for Android or iCloud).  Make sure you’ve turned the app on and that it’s working.

3. Change your passwords. We’ve written about this before (http://www.webdesignsbylao.com/wordpress/internet-safety/) but it bears repeating.  With so much of our personal and work life going digital, password security is more important than ever. The key to online safety is making sure that all of your online accounts are protected by a unique, strong password. Having an account compromised is bad enough but if the stolen password is used on all your other accounts, the problems multiply.  Unbelievably, the most commonly hacked password is still “password.”  Change them … now.  And consider using a password manager.

4. Delete your old accounts, apps and programs. Which accounts (social media and other online accounts) are you still using? When was the last time you used Blogster or MySpace? If you’re not using them, delete them! If you are like the majority of us, your smartphone and tablet are full of apps and games that you no longer use or need. Take a few minutes and erase the one’s you don’t need and free up space for the latest apps.

5. Protect your computer (and smartphone) with antivirus software. No computer system is immune from malware, viruses and trojans. Reduce your risk with a good antivirus program.  There are several decent free programs that should be adequate for the average user.  Consider Microsoft Security Essentials, Bitdefender or AVG Essentials, at a minimum.

6. Don’t use any browser released before 2013. Yes, I’m specifically looking at those of you still using Explorer 8 (released in 2009), Explorer 9 (released in 2011), and Explorer 10 (released in 2012). This is as much about your web experience as anything else. If you’re not using a modern browser, you might be missing out on something good. Outdated browsers will attempt to load pages, but might not render them as the creator intended. And forget support for any problems you might run into.

So that’s our list for 2015 technology resolutions.  Any others you can think of?

Computer and Data Security

Do you leave your computer on all the time and never shut it off, letting it go into sleep mode? Don’t remember when your antivirus program last did a scan? Then you are always connected to the Internet and should read this.

Without even trying, you hear about hackers, spammers, and computer viruses. Because it has become so commonplace, the time needed to guard your computer files has increased. Even the International Space Station is not exempt from computer viruses. (See Cosmonaut carries computer virus aboard International Space Station).

We have a number of devices we use in our business to check to see what our work looks like on different types of systems. We have various security software installed, updated constantly, and is operating live 24 hours a day every day. We run scans with the programs we have at least twice a week plus anytime it seems we might be having a problem, i.e., the computer slows down, does something strange, etc.

Desktop-Computer-HelpLast year, due to some problems we had somewhere between the computer, our router and our Internet Service Provider (ISP), we came across a program called Microsoft Safety Scanner. It is a program that you download and run with a file named “msert.exe”. It does not run all of the time like your antivirus program does, and Microsoft tells you up front that it is not to be considered as a replacement for your antivirus and/or antimalware programs. After running the program, which is only good for 10 days after you download it, we noticed something odd.

One of the things we found out is that anti-virus programs do not operate as you assume they do. We had always thought that the anti-virus program was checking all of the files on our computer when it scanned the computer. It does not. It only scans those files that are essential, such as Windows 7 operating files, and the computer files that run your computer system.

To check things out, we ran a test scan with our antivirus program. By the reported numbers from each program and using both programs on one computer, the antivirus program scanned 492,530 files. When we ran the Microsoft Safety Scanner on the same computer, it scanned 2,378,403 files. It found four malware files that the antivirus program did not.

Note: Microsoft Safety Scanner can run 2-3 hours, depending on the amount of files you have on your computer. You should not do anything with the computer while it is running. We usually run it at night after we are done with the computer, check the results in the morning and reboot.

To put it into perspective, let me give you a scenario. I like science fiction movies and one of them, Independence Day, is one of my favorites. A scene in the movie has a line that sticks in my mind. The military forces that are in a deeply underground bunker are about to be attacked by aliens with a powerful weapon. One of the main characters asks a military person, “How bad is it going to be?” The person says, “We’re pretty far underground so it should be safe for us.” Then she asks, and this is the key line, “What about them?” while pointing to a screen showing hundreds of people that are above ground and will be wiped out. His stunned expression is priceless.

The point is, with the proliferation of viruses, Trojans, malware and the like, and the fact that computers are coming with larger and larger hard drives with many more files, the bad stuff can be hidden anywhere. Therefore, while the systems files are checked all the time, and your antivirus program is keeping them safe, there are many more files that can have the bad stuff attached. The complete hard drive needs to be scanned periodically just to be sure.

What you have to consider is how much trouble will you have if your hard drive is hacked and no longer functions? How many things on your computer are indispensable?

As I mentioned before, we spend a lot of time making sure the computers are operating safely. You have to spend the time because if you do not, it will take a lot more time to get some of your data back. From experience, you will not get it all back.

Therefore, you want to make sure your antivirus program is installed, updated regularly, and operating in real-time, that your scans are run at a bare minimum of once a week, and periodically, run a scanning program that will look at your entire hard drive, not just the system files.

Oh yes, some additional advice most of which you have heard. Do not open attachments to emails from people you do not know.

Moreover, a new one is coming around in email. If the email system you have asks you about an email you just opened, “The email has been modified. Do you want to save it?” just say NO. You will be glad you did.

 

Computer and Website Security

We recently experienced the dreaded hacking incident on our servers, well actually less an incident and more of a pain in the keyboard. We maintain a fair number of websites for companies and individuals so we have the responsibility of overseeing any problems. While we were fairly lucky this time, it still took us about 10 straight days to go through all of our Client’s websites to make sure things were set back in the right place and that they were clean.

 The situation reinforced what we have said all along about computer security. Make sure your computer(s) are secure, updates are current for all programs, and make sure you have clean backups for all your files. Have a strong antivirus and anti–malware program on all of your computers.

 Since this happened, we decided to expand our backup system to include a set of CD-R/W for every website we maintain. This way, if something really drastic happened, we still have the websites we can upload quickly and cleanly. Then our Clients won’t have to wait for days to have their website available again.

The comparison in cost of having to check all of the websites to simply reloading the websites was about $130 for fifty 700Mb CD-R/W disks and ten 4GB flash drives to accommodate the larger websites to the 40+ hours of time it took, an estimated cost in time of about $1,500.00. That is a big cost savings, if you have that amount of time used up and not getting paid for it, and especially if your customers can’t do business with you until things are cleaned up.

 For a small business, that can get expensive very quickly given that hackers target 31% of small businesses and it is steadily increasing with more severity. All it takes is for one employee to open that one bad email or visit that one website and have a Trojan or virus downloaded onto your business computer. Then it spreads out to your other computers and possibly to your customer computers.

 A good anti-virus program, it will usually tell you when there is a problem, at that time, and will also quarantine the varmint. Yes, you have to keep that program up to date as well, and run it. Most you can schedule to run overnight, so you have a safe computer to come to in the morning. We aren’t saying you have to but we have ours scheduled for every night.

Our Clients depend on us to keep them running. After all, we do owe our business to them.