Pro Activist Computer Support

Figuring out how you can make it work, through technology

Scams…again??!! — January 27, 2020

Scams…again??!!

I know it is exhausting to be constantly viligant about emails, but sometimes you can fall victim to a scam or virus even from trusted senders. 

Unfortunately, it is becoming all too common that you or your business might be sent an invoice, letter or invitation via email – possibly to be listed in a bogus directory, pay an invoice, or to renew your website domain name – that is really a phishing scam.These scams take advantage of the fact the person handling the administrative duties for the business may not know whether any vendor purchases, advertising or promotional activities may have actually been requested.

Many email-based ransomware scams use fake invoices as attachments to infect your computer. As an example, if you receive an unexpected bill from a utility provider, do not open the attachment.  

Using information they have obtained by hacking your computer systems, a scammer posing as one of your regular suppliers will tell you that their banking details have changed. They may tell you they have recently changed banks, and may use stolen letterhead and branding to convince you they are legitimate.

They will provide you with a new bank account number and ask that all future payments are processed accordingly. The scam is often only detected when your regular supplier asks why they have not been paid.Fake invitations will often include a form to be filled out, and ask for your business contact details with an approval signature. You might be led to believe that you are responding to an offer for a free entry, but the form you are asked to complete is a disguised invoice or contract with the amount owed hidden in tiny print.

Some things you can do to protect yourself and your business:

  • Always check that goods or services were both ordered and delivered before paying an invoice, and always read the fine print carefully.
  • Try to limit the number of people in your business who are authorised to make orders or pay invoices. Make sure the business billing you is the one you normally deal with.
  • If you notice a supplier’s usual bank account details have changed, call them to confirm.
  • If you receive a telephone call or ‘invoice’ that comes from a publication you have never heard of, do not pay or give out your details until you have looked into the matter further.
  • Keep written records of your authorisations for advertising or directory entries. If you receive an invoice or a telephone call, you can go back to your records to check it.
  • If you are happy with your current domain name registration provider, simply ignore any other ‘renewal’ or ‘registration’ letters that you may receive from a different company. If you do want to switch domain name registration providers—make sure you know the full costs, terms and conditions of the offer before agreeing.

Recently, one of my clients was forced to format and rebuild their entire infrastructure of 2 servers and 20 laptops from the ground up. They were down for 2 full days, and it took weeks to get back to normal. Don’t get caught, get prepared!

Your New Year’s resolution for 2020: —

Your New Year’s resolution for 2020:

Upgrading your wireless network…It’s not as painful as joining a gym, and will save you from holiday headaches!

As with other electronics, your network gear has computer chips that need to be replaced every 5 years or so.  But, what usually happens is your network equipment gets put into a dark corner, only to be located again when something goes wrong. 

Small businesses often make the mistake of purchasing wireless network devices the same places a home user would – at Best Buy or Amazon.  Selecting the cheapest solution, i.e. Cisco, Netgear, or TP Link, but not necessarily the right solution, with the quality you expect and need, in a work environment.  

I recommend upgrading to a Ubiquiti unified solution.  Not only is their gear substantially higher quality, but they record and chart the status and history of all the network equipment in your office. With your Ubiquiti equipment connected to their web-based console, you can analyze traffic patterns throughout the day to identify bottlenecks and outages. 

Your business networks need to be able to handle higher traffic, particularly during your busiest times, which is when they are most likely to go down.  In order to help prevent any downtime for your business, I would love to talk to you about how we can upgrade and install your new Ubiquiti wireless network.

STRATEGY & PLANNING — May 29, 2019

STRATEGY & PLANNING

Technology is ever-changing, 
and so is your business.

Which is why its important on a yearly basis to take a longer view of the technology decisions that could help shape the future of your business. 

Annual meetings should be held with your IT professional to plan for technology updates, equipment purchases or system upgrades that may benefit your company. While it may not seem like a traditional time of year for budgetary planning, it’s never to soon to start reviewing your technology needs.  And, Summer is a slower time of year in the IT world, so it gives us time to make well-thought-out decisions on products!  For instance, I can help you plan your phase out of Windows 7 well in advance of it’s end-of-life in April 2020.

I’m heading out of town tomorrow for a short vacation (returning on June 8th), but I will reach out to my clients after I return to schedule your reviews.  

This newsletter is meant for informational purposes, but as always, I’m here to support you.  Please call me if you would like to discuss the best options for you and your business.  

Andy

Ransomware Episode: My 15 minutes of fame on local TV — May 7, 2018

Ransomware Episode: My 15 minutes of fame on local TV

This past fall, Joe Smith and Julia Anderson interviewed me for their Smart Money TV program at Tualatin Valley Cable Access TV.  Joe and Julia were well informed and presented me with a lot of insightful questions about areas of security including ransomware, backups, passwords and online banking.  It was so much fun.  I have never been interviewed before, but I felt very well-prepared and they were so attentive that I warmed up quite quickly.

If you are interested in a general overview of where you should begin thinking about your network security, I recommend watching my short (18 minute) video interview with Joe and Julia at TVCTV.

Slowness? — April 22, 2016

Slowness?

Tortoise
Slower than molasses in January?

When you notice your computer is slower than you’d like, then it helps to ask “How is it slow?”  There are three main ways a computer can act slowly and each one comes from a different set of possible sources.

The first kind of slowness is slowness getting started.  If your computer takes a very long time to start or reboot, but once it finishes booting it works normally, this is slowness getting started.  It is typical of older computers with slower or dying hard disk drives.  But it may also be due to a lot of software loading at boot time, such as complex security systems, Adobe down-loaders, backup utilities, Spotify, and so forth.  In bad cases, you may find that it takes a long time to open a program or document but then the computers works normally until it is time to save the document.

The second kind of slowness is slowness on the Internet.  If your computer acts normally when working in Word or other local software, but web pages take a long time to load, this is slowness on the Internet.  It is typical of computers connected to slow Internet connections. But it may appear with certain types of malware infestations.  Ensure you have a top-tier professional-grade anti-virus product, such as Symantec (Norton), ESET, Kaspersky or Trend Micro.

The last kind of slowness is general slowness.  If your computer is slow at everything and particularly slow when there are many programs open or many tabs open in your web browser, this is general slowness.  It it typical of older computers with low RAM, although some types of malware infestations could eat into the RAM in ways that get hidden from the system performance monitoring tools. But this sort of slowness may also appear where the motherboard and other components are starting to degrade.

Those are the three ways a computer can act slowly.  Hopefully this will help you think about your computer performance and how to improve it.  If you suspect malware, try a scan with Malwarebytes Anti-malware.  If that finds nothing, then consult with your local computer technician, and be sure to specify how and when you notice the slowness plaguing you.

Cloud Backup with Carbonite — February 8, 2016

Cloud Backup with Carbonite

Carbointe silver partnerYou know, if your computer gets stolen or destroyed, the drive you connect to it to run backups is likely to get stolen or destroyed at the same time.  Once you have a good local backup, it’s time to consider backing up at least some of your data to the cloud as well.

There are many good cloud-backup systems, but my favorite over the years has been Carbonite.  It is easy to setup and use. It has been very reliable for my clients who use it.  So this past year, I signed up as a partner with Carbonite.  As a Carbonite partner, I can better help you get the plan you need and if you register through me, I will automatically get access to your account through a dashboard app so that I can monitor your backups.  I will now be able to know immediately whether there are any problems with your cloud-backup and work quickly to repair the issue before you lose any data.

Here is the link to get you started with Carbonite through my account: http://partners.carbonite.com/proactivist

Website Revamp — January 13, 2016

Website Revamp

the word "Wordpress" spelled in Scrabble tiles
I recently remade the web site in WordPress

I wrestled for a long time with updating my website.  I liked the new look, but I worried that it would appear too simplistic.  My previous website was professionally done – a LONG time ago – but I decided to redo the website myself. Designed using Word Press, I chose the Lingonberry theme and added a few select, high-quality images. Even knowing the decisions were sound, I still had the hesitation that goes with doing something outside my core areas.  Now it is up, and I hope you like it.

I have been entering small blog posts on my development version of the site – all of the posts prior to this one – in hopes that this blog would be useful to you from the beginning, so please check out some of the rest of the blog articles.

The main issue this website revamp addresses is that the new theme is mobile friendly.  For the past year, we have been hearing that mobile-friendly websites would get way better results at Google, and then we heard that non-mobile friendly sites wouldn’t show up at all.  Either way, my site is ready.  If you want to test yours, head to this checker and enter your company’s web address.

If you are curious about how this site used to look, check it out on the way-back machine.

Hope your holidays were good. Let me know if you are interested in updating your own website.  I have plenty of tips, now.

Bartblaze on Cryptoware — November 13, 2015

Bartblaze on Cryptoware

There is a lot to be said about protecting your computer from encrypting malware.  I will have more to say soon, but for now I direct you to Blaze’s Security Blog where this post covers the basics.

I use and recommend all the protection software mentioned there: WOT, No Script, ScriptSafe, Ad Block Plus, and anti-virus are all necessary on any device or computer of any make.

In addition, I recommend a cloud-based backup system, such as Carbonite.  Note that Dropbox and other cloud-based sync tools are not effective in this role.

Office 365 to replace workgroup servers & Windows 10 upgrade fails — November 6, 2015

Office 365 to replace workgroup servers & Windows 10 upgrade fails

A drawing of white clouds in a blue sky with the words Office 365 and One Drive at the top
One Drive and the Office 365 Cloud

We had a meeting at the end of October to hear JP Wilson, from Matrix Technologies, present the ways their company can help you move into the cloud and get rid of your NAS or workgroup server.  I can also help you with that, by the way.

At the beginning of the meeting, we conducted a brief poll of the membership to see how many of us had run the Windows 10 upgrade from either Windows Vista, 7 or 8.1 and how successfully it went.  The results were not encouraging: out of a total of 33 upgrades run directly by professionals in the field, only 22 worked.  Often we were able to roll back the update using System Restore, but a 33% fail rate sounds pretty dangerous to me.  This underscores the advise I would give to my clients that now is not the time to upgrade your computer to Windows 10.  I usually advise people to upgrade when they buy new equipment. Which is to say: don’t upgrade your OS.

As a side note, there were an additional 20 computers that were brought in to OCCA members to get one of us to try and fix a bricked upgrade.  The success rates on those were even lower, since the users had often made things worse through poor preparation or trying to make their own repairs.

When the speaker got up to speak, we heard a little more about pricing and other options for Office 365, but as often is the case, it was the discussion among the members that really brought out the best new ideas.  Jeremy Christensen recommends using Intellesync for conversion of Exchange to the cloud. Another member noted that GsynchIt gives two-way communication from Google Apps to Outlook, which is huge, because there are so few ways to back up your Google data.

Protection for your web browser —

Protection for your web browser

I got a few new ideas and got some support for my old ones on web browser security.  I have been using and recommending Ad-Block Plus for a few years now.  This plug-in works to stop certain forms of advertising on the web pages you visit: video ads, ads that launch sound.  It doesn’t block all ads, knowing that ads drive revenue to websites, but by wielding the power of a large install base, the owners negotiate with the big advertising companies to tone back ads and make them more palatable.

Another plug-in I think is indispensable these days is a script blocker – No-Script for Firefox, or ScriptSafe for Chrome – which will prevent Flash, Java, Silverlight, and other scripting software from running by default except on the pages you manually choose to trust.   Learning which pages to trust is a process.  And once you start down the process, the huge number of intrusive applications that horn in on every page through scripting can overwhelm the mind.  Really, I think that blocking scripting on your websites is the best thing you can do to protect yourself from viruses and hacking.

At our September meeting, I heard some new suggestions from OCCA members: Ublock Origin, which replaces Ad Block Plus and allows you to pull from a wide variety of blacklists for advertising and malware, and Privacy Patcher from EFF which heuristically detects tracking.

Another member touted the TripLog app, which enters your mileage for you based on when you plug your phone into your car to charge it.  Then it uses GPS to track your mileage and destinations, and makes an entry in your QuickBooks.  Slick, for those who need help tracking mileage.

We discussed some wireless toys as well, with Jesse and Matthew strongly endorsing the TP-Link nanorouters.  Matthew says the MR3020 are phenomenal. They are small (cell-phone sized), but powerful.