Data security and cloud storage

Cloud storage is a service that allocates an amount of online storage space to a member subscriber that is accessible through the account login user name and password. Its like having a remote hard drive that is available to only you and the people you allow to have access, regardless of where in the world you are. There are several providers of cloud services; Microsoft and Apple each offer one, with at least 5GB storage offered for free.

Moving storage and sharing to one of the various cloud services makes a lot of sense. It enables the data to be available across various devices, often between PCs and Macs without issue. Whether personal photos and files or business info, it makes good sense to become familiar with these tools.

But there can be a dark side to this convenience. This article from ZD Net explains a new threat to iCloud accounts. As the article explains, the compromised account credentials were taken from third-party sites. The potential number of accounts affected can be in the tens of millions.

Then, there is this article, again from ZDNet, regarding an outage at Microsoft that kept users from logging in to the cloud services. While not a security breach, its still a shortcoming of a cloud-based service. Luckily, OneDrive, the Microsoft cloud service like iCloud, saves a copy of the file on the local PC, so when your Internet connection goes out, or you can’t log in to the service, at least you can get some work done. The files will re-synchronize the next time you can log in.

Even with some downsides, I still recommend putting your business data in one or more cloud services. But with these tools as with any essential business tools, I strongly urge you to take no chances and change your passwords to these services now. And set a reminder to change the passwords every 90 days or so. That way, if the passwords do get compromised by someone else’s negligence, you will still have control of your accounts. I know that keeping track of all these passwords can be a burden, so consider using a password vault like Keepass or LastPass.

Leave a comment on which services you use, and why, and how you keep your data safe.

Lets all make our PC user resolutions

Here is a link to a 5 year old article about PC use complaints that is as relevant now as it was then. So why are these issues the same now as they were then? Haven’t computer users gotten smarter in the last five years? Well, yes and no. The computing world moves fast and its nearly impossible for regular users to keep up with all the changes. Couple with a demonstrated lack of patience, and its no wonder so many people get in so much trouble.

Its a great time now as we head into the new year to make a few resolutions:

  • Don’t click that. Seriously, I don’t care how legitimate it looks. Unless you were expecting it, do not click on attachments. The viruses spread these days by infected attachments are typically of the ransomware variety, meaning you will lose your documents, all your documents, with no hope of recovery. So don’t click that, okay?
  • Use better passwords. We’ve talked about what elements make a good password, and although they are cumbersome to use, change your passwords. Your computer login password should be something you can remember, and passwords for online accounts of any importance (email, financial, etc)  should be 10-15 characters with numbers, mixed case, and symbols. I know its a pain, but security isn’t supposed to be convenient.
  • Back up your data. If its worth keeping, its worth keeping secure. Make sure all the important docs, pictures, and files are backed up to something. It can be an external drive, a thumb drive, or even better, off site, online backup. Online backup allows for retrieval in the event of destruction of the equipment or corruption of the data. Its better to back up too much rather than not at all.
  • Be patient. When something goes wrong, or appears to have gone wrong, just stop a sec. Breathe and think. Look at the error message and google the message if it doesn’t really mean anything to you. The fix may be simple. Just take a second and be patient.

That’s it. Four things I’d like you to incorporate into your day-to-day computing. It will make your life so much simpler. Let me know in the comments what you think and what your biggest tech headache of 2016 was.

Let’s look at Windows 10 some more

There are only about five more weeks left until Microsoft pulls the plug on the free upgrade for current users of Windows 7/8/8.1. After that it will cost money to do the upgrade. After July 31, there will be no more opportunity to upgrade for free (see here). So here’s my advice – just do it. I’ve heard about some hardware issues after the upgrade, but those were mostly older printers, or the PC was rather old to begin with. That said, you still have the thirty-days grace period to restore back to the original version of Windows. The upgrade will likely take a couple of hours to download and install. Its a pretty painless process, but it does eat up time, so plan accordingly.

So, whats your take? Using it yet? I have it on a couple of PCs, and I like it. What is your experience?

More reasons not to click that…

Nice article (*here*) from PC Magazine on the increasing incidence of ransomware. Ok, more terrifying than *nice*, but you get the idea. The take-away is that the preponderance of malware infections are a direct result of user action. Users are fooled into clicking on bad links that are usually presented through email. The article goes in to good behaviors and best practices, so I won’t belabor the point here. As always, regular, onsite and offsite backups are essential to protecting critical data. And just remember: Don’t Click That.

Panic is a bad Plan A

A real text convo between me and a client ended in this exchange:

QB_Panic

The client had tried to upload a QB company file to a shared site set up by their accountant. Sounds simple, but ended very poorly, with QB corruption and a lot of stress. I was able to get QB running, no data was lost, and everyone was happy. But how to avoid the problem in the first place?

My advice: first, make a backup of company file, and place that backup in a separate drive location, preferably on a different computer. In a pinch, a USB drive will work. Next, close QB, and tell the other users to close it as well. Last, move the file to the share, close the connection to the share (or the open window). Thats it. Once its all done, get back to work. And remember: Don’t Panic.

What do you do with a drunken laptop?

We all know that accidents happen. But now, you’ve spilled a drink on your laptop, and you’re at a loss as to what to do. Well, first, don’t panic. Things may not be as bad as they seem.

It’s likely the laptop was very surprised by the sudden introduction of a liquid and has turned itself off. Leave it off for now; trying to wake it up now could cause more damage. It’s a fact that laptops hate being wet worse than cats. Remove the power cord and if at all possible, remove the battery as well. Stand the laptop up on the edge opposite where it plugs in to power. We want the liquid that has gotten in the case to all flow one way, and the edge opposite the power connector usually has large vents. If there are panels on the underside of the laptop, open them to increase air flow. Don’t touch any of the components inside the panels; we don’t want to take a chance of damaging any important parts.

Well, that’s it. That’s all you need to do besides wait. Give the laptop at least a couple of days to dry thoroughly. Then close up the underside panels, replace the battery and plug in the power. It will either turn on, in which case you’ll feel quite clever, or it won’t, in which case it’s a lucky thing you had all your data backed up.

What are you looking at?

I’ve had a few customers’ PCs experience infections recently, and I thought this would be a good time to discuss one of the vectors for such an attack. It is called Search Poisoning, and its discussed in this article from a couple of years ago.

The author brings up a few good points, and I think they can be boiled down to one golden rule: Know Upon What Thou art Clicking.

I like to advise my clients to take an extra second and use the tools we have available to us. Principle among these is to mouse over the link and look at the target URL; if it goes somewhere that sounds unusual or foreign, or isn’t what the link text would lead one to expect, then don’t click that.

So, for instance, if you were interested in finding the most effective anti virus products, you might type in a search for ‘best anti virus’. (As an aside, I just did enter that search, and didn’t get any poisoned results on the first page, so it isn’t a good contrived example. Lets pretend it is.)

If there was a result such as ‘bestantivirus.com’ or event better, .ru, .cn, or .pl, I would strongly recommend giving it a pass. Sites that go to foreign addresses, and sites that have a narrowly-scoped address are often invitations to infection. It is good practice to assume that there is no reason for a site to have a very narrowly defined address except as a lure to the unwary.

So when surfing around online, it pays to take the extra sec and ask yourself, just what are you looking at?

Some quick tweaks

Hi Everyone – there are three reasons why your PC might be starting to slow down a little, and quick ways to check and fix them. The first way is that the hard drive might be getting full. Look in Windows Explorer and see how much free space it still has. 15% of total volume is a good rule of thumb for available free space. If you have less, right click on the C drive, choose Properties, and click the Disk Cleanup button. You can’t hurt the system using this method, so go ahead and delete whatever the cleaner finds.

 

The second way depends on the file index. Windows keeps track of all the files on your hard drive, and updates the index frequently. It’s very possible that the index includes places you don’t need to search, so go click the Start button and type Index. The search function will find Index Options. Open that and click Modify. Uncheck any Internet Explorer selections, and any other folders that you aren’t likely to need (keep folders such as Documents and Pictures checked). Once done, click Advanced and click Rebuild Index.

 

Last, the desktop might be a bit cluttered. Windows keeps the desktop up to date by refreshing it several times a second. The more the system has to repaint, the slower it can get.  I recommend you move folders with large file volumes (1 GB or more) to your Documents folder and place a shortcut to the folder on the desktop. And just delete things you don’t need. A clean desktop is a happy workspace!

Windows 10 So Far

So what is your experience so far – is Windows 10 helping you get work done or frustrating you? People have been emailing (mostly from the UK and Canada, whats up with that?) to describe their woes with W10. So far, the complaints have a couple common threads.

First is hardware. There will always be some hardware issues, such as printers that won’t play with the new OS. I’ve also been hearing about on-board hardware such as headphones and DVD drives that don’t work correctly after an update. Hardware issues can be very frustrating, so make sure to check the PC’s/laptop’s manufacturer’s web site for compatibility issues before upgrading, or for drivers afterward.

Second are the usability issues: How do I find <whatever>. Those issues are usually easy to solve as W10, just as 8, 7, and Vista before it, is equipped with a search function that usually works well. Tap the Windows key and start typing the thing you want.

Which brings us to a real problem, and one I have personally seen – Cortana and search stop functioning altogether. I did find a really good fix online – use the second option for PowerShell.

Windows 10 is a good move in my experience so far – as long as your workflow doesn’t get broken by this OS fix. Remember to check with software vendors before upgrading to make sure your important programs will keep working.

Use the comments to share your experiences!

Create those disks

You may have noticed that the newer, sleeker, faster PCs include many bells and whistles, but there is one notable item they don’t usually include anymore – the recovery disks. Instead of including a disk or two, they include an annoying pop-up to remind you to create the disks yourself. Recovery disks include not just the version of Windows that shipped with the computer, but all the device drivers (sound, network, video, etc) that you need to get your PC back up and running.

My advice to you: create those disks. It only takes a few minutes and between one and three DVDs, but is the single most important action you can take with a new PC. The hard drive in your PC is engineered to work about eight hours a day and last 3 – 5 years.  Recent performance analysis by BackBlaze.com and ArsTechnica.com show failure rates that begin to get unacceptably high after about 3 years of use.

All of that to say, you simply can’t trust that your hard drive will be working when you need it. It is essential to set up a good back up plan and have a set of recovery disks to assist in reinstalling Windows and device drivers to a new hard drive after a crash.