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What You Should Learn From “The Day The Earth Was Hacked”

Europol, the intelligence agency of the European Union, called it a “cyberattack of an unprecedented level.”

Starting early Friday, May 12, a massive ransomware infection called WannaCry quickly spread to hundreds of thousands of computers in over 150 countries.

It crippled entire hospitals, car manufacturers, telecom companies, and even affected U.S.-based FedEx, demanding a $300 ransom to be paid in Bitcoin for the data files it held hostage.

Failure To Do This Leaves The Door Wide Open

Why did this ransomware inflict so much damage when it could have been easily prevented?

First, companies and individuals failed to keep their computers updated with the latest security patches.

Microsoft discovered the vulnerability exploited by WannaCry and issued a patch back in March. Computers with the update installed were not affected.

Yet, an enormous number of PCs obviously weren’t updated, providing an open door for the cyberattack.

In my experience, most small business and home users neglect to regularly install the ever-important Windows Updates. They either don’t know how or never think about installing them.

Worse yet, many refuse to allow a knowledgeable IT provider to take care of these tasks for them at a minimal cost.

The Antivirus Myth

Second, most of the affected PCs used ineffective or no antivirus protection.

The first question I always get asked after a client’s machine becomes infected is, “Well, I have [insert name of a popular antivirus program, usually a free one]. Shouldn’t it have prevented this?”

Truth is most antivirus programs sold today use ancient, 25-year-old technology. They simply don’t protect against how today’s threats attack and infect computers.

In the previous column two weeks ago, my Director of Service Operations, Christian Hinojosa, warned about the inadequacies of free antivirus programs – like AVG, Avast, and Avira. These are some of the worst protection when it comes to ransomware like WannaCry.

But even many of the paid antivirus programs fail to block deadly viruses and malware.

Only a slim handful of paid antivirus software effectively blocks many of the behavior-based, zero-day threats regularly attacking your computer. And they’re not ones you find on the shelf at Walmart or Best Buy.

The Worst Is Yet To Come

While WannaCry’s reach rapidly extended throughout the entire civilized world, it only lasted a few days before it was stopped in its tracks.

The purchase of a simple $11 domain name by an observant security expert broke the criminals’ code.

Those thieves know exactly what they did wrong. You can bet they’re already working on a version 2.0 that won’t be stopped as easily.

At Home or At Work – You’re At Risk

Are you a home user who only checks email and browses Facebook?

Are you a small business owner with one or more computers critical to running your daily operations?

Do you work in an office, warehouse, or other organization with computers?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you have computers at risk for the next big attack.

It would be wise to make sure you’re well-protected before disaster strikes. Keep in mind these six tips:

1. Regularly update all your computers with the latest patches.
2. Install antivirus software designed for today’s threats.
3. Implement edge protection to build a wall around your home or business network that will keep unwanted hackers out.
4. Provide on-going training to family members and/or employees that helps them identify phishing email, scams, fake websites, and other malicious attempts to infect your PC or steal personal information.
5. Maintain regular, automated, OFF-SITE backups of all important documents and data on your computer.
6. Consult with a knowledgeable IT professional to provide these five solutions for you. If they can’t, find an expert who is educated and able to offer complete security. It really is cheaper than the alternative.

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They Almost Lost It All. What You Can Learn From Their Mistake

 

Fort Branch Town Hall recently came close to experiencing a major disaster.

According to an article in last week’s South Gibson Star-Times, multiple hard drives in the town’s server failed simultaneously. Stored on these hard drives was critical information used by town employees every single day.

Had all the hard drives completely failed, business at Fort Branch Town Hall would have come to a standstill – at least for a significant period of time. Some of the data might have been forever lost. And the cost of recreating the lost files could have easily run into the thousands of dollars. All paid for by your tax dollars.

I shook my head as I read each sentence of the story. I wondered why such important digital files weren’t being protected by an off-site backup system already.

Maybe whoever installed the server didn’t recommend or adequately explain why off-site backup is important – and what the consequences of not having it are.

Maybe it was recommended, but the decision makers didn’t approve it.

But on the day the server died, I guarantee everyone affected was praying for a miracle. It appears they got lucky – this time.

In this one stress-filled moment, they realized the importance of protecting their critical files by backing them up.

I encounter this exact same scenario in most small businesses and government agencies with which I consult. Most do not think about what would happen if their computers, their servers, or their hard drives failed. They don’t realize the cost of lost business, of lost employee productivity, or what it would take to create the lost files from scratch.

Even the majority of home users I talk to don’t realize all of the pictures, documents and music stored only on their desktops and laptops could be forever lost if a nasty virus attacked their PC or if the hard drive failed.

Businesses and home users’ computers alike are also subject to natural disasters and other calamities. Tornados, fires, and floods do happen here.

External hard drives aren’t a good solution.

Using a $60 external hard drive connected to your computer gives you a false sense of security.

While it’s better than not backing up your important files at all, this method of data protection is fraught with problems.

• Hard drives fail 100% of the time. Including external hard drives.

I recently had a client bring in her external hard drive where years’ worth of family photos and documents had been backed up. Her computer wouldn’t recognize when it was attached.

Our diagnostics revealed the drive had physically failed. It would cost a minimum of $500 to send the drive to a clean lab to see if they could even extract any of the files off the internal platters of the drive.
• Backups on your external hard drive can be destroyed by viruses.

Most people leave their external hard drives connected to their computer. But by doing so, it makes it easy for certain types of viruses to not only damage the files on your computer, but also on the external hard drive. Thus destroying both your original and backup copies.
• Your external hard drive can perish in a fire, flood, tornado or other disaster.

Since the external drive is most likely kept plugged in to your computer, if something physically happens to the location where your PC and external drive are, both your original files and their backups are lost.

Off-site backups provide the best security and peace of mind.

Off-site backups eliminate the three points of failure external hard drives have. It also means you don’t have to remember to back up your files.

Not all off-site backup solutions are created equally, though. Carbonite and Mozy are two of the most popular backup solutions advertised. They’re also cheap. But they are among the worst when it comes to reliability, which is what’s most important.

It’s best to consult your trusted computer advisor to determine the right solution for your specific needs.

The million dollar question

Will you call me now, before disaster strikes, to talk about protecting your important digital files?

Or will you be like Fort Branch officials and calling in a panic after a catastrophe, begging for a miracle?

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Don’t Let The Grinch Ruin Your Christmas! Back Up Those Pictures (And Other Files)

The holidays are the time of year when family and friends gather to celebrate, share good times and create memories.

We love to capture those memories in photos and videos. Many then upload them to Facebook and YouTube and other social media sites for others to view.

(I really don’t like having my picture taken. And holidays are the worst. My mother, for some reason, feels compelled to take the holiday photos while the family is sitting around the table. At least we’ll know what we had to eat each year!  But back to the point …)

1000memories blog estimates that 3,500,000,000 photos (yes, TRILLION) have been taken since cameras were invented in the 19th century. That number continues to skyrocket with the ubiquity of digital cameras and cameras built into our smartphones.

It wasn’t all that long ago that cameras used rolls of film that had to be taken to be developed and made into prints. The negatives and prints served as your original and your backup of your photographs.

With the advent of digital cameras, most pictures are now stored on flash memory cards or on the hard drives of your home computer. Many times there’s only ONE copy of that picture – the one stored on your PC or your camera.

Have you ever stopped to think that losing your precious digital pictures or videos could be one keystroke, mouse-click or failed hard drive away?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I’m also realistic. Hard drives and flash memory cards fail 100% of the time. People do accidentally hit the delete button on the camera or the computer. When this happens, it could mean that the photograph that captured that one special moment this Christmas is forever lost.

That’s why I strongly encourage you to regularly back up your files.

Let me briefly review some important tips regarding data backup – tips that, if you follow them, can keep the Grinch from ruining your happy holidays.

Why should you back up?

As I stated earlier, the first reason you should back up your files is because computer hard drives fail 100 percent of the time. It’s a matter of WHEN not IF. As one person has said, “There are only two types of hard drives – the ones that have failed and the ones that will fail.”

Hard drives, where all of your files are stored on your computer, contain moving parts. Over time, those moving parts wear out and fail. If it is a catastrophic physical failure, it may be impossible for any files to be recovered from the hard drive.

With the recent surge in virus infections attacking computers, a second reason to back up your files is to protect them from being lost due to a nasty virus infection. Sometimes a virus infection is so bad that the only way to remove it is to permanently erase everything on your hard drive and reinstall the operating system and programs. Without a backup, all of your important files could be forever lost.

Third, performing regular backups allows you to recover a file that was accidentally deleted. We’ve all done it – erased a file or folder from our computer thinking we didn’t need it any longer. Then a day or so later, we realize we do need that file. A good backup allows you to retrieve the last saved version of that file or folder.

Finally, backups protect your files in the event of a natural disaster, fire, or someone stealing your computer. Recently, one of our clients brought in her laptop and had us perform our data backup service. She called us about three weeks later thanking us for backing up her files to DVD because someone had broken into her house and stolen her laptop. Without the backup we performed, she would have forever lost important documents and pictures.

What should you back up?

Although every person uses their computer for different purposes, there are some common things you should regularly back up:

  • Your email addresses – think of how long it would take to gather and re-enter those again
  • Your list of favorite websites stored in your web browser
  • Pictures saved on your computer (typically in the My Pictures folder)
  • All your documents, such as recipes, letters and spreadsheets (typically in the My Documents folder)
  • Your downloaded music files from iTunes (typically in the My Music folder)
  • Financial information from programs like Quicken, Microsoft Money or QuickBooks
  • Family tree information from programs like Family Tree Maker

How should you back up your files?

Backing up your files simply means keeping a copy of them in a separate location in the event of an emergency. It is NOT wise to keep both copies of your files in the same place. It is recommended that you have two backups on two different types of media in two physically different places.

One way to back up your files is to burn them to CD or DVD. Most computers come with a CD/DVD burner installed, as well as software that allows you to copy your files to discs. This method of backup is relatively inexpensive and very reliable. The downside is that it can be time-consuming if you have a large number of files.

Another method of backing up your files is to copy them to an external hard drive. The external hard drive connects to your PC by a USB cable. Then you can manually copy the files from your computer to the external hard drive. You can also purchase and install software that will automate the backup process for you.

If you have a high-speed Internet connection, a good method of backing up your files is to use an online backup service. Your important files are automatically and regularly copied from your computer to their secure servers over the Internet.

Although it’s easy and cheap, do not use USB flash drives (also called thumb drives) as your primary backup device. These devices are not designed for long-term storage.

Don’t wait to think about backing up your computer until it’s too late. I’ve had the unpleasant job of breaking the bad news to clients that we are unable to save any of their files because their hard drive had failed, only to learn that they had not performed any backups.

Ask your trusted computer advisor to protect your important files by setting up a reliable, inexpensive backup solution.

In closing, I would like to wish each of you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. It has been my pleasure to provide you with practical tips and useful information about computers and technology this past year. I look forward to continuing to do so in 2013.

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Are you guilty of this computer “crime”?

External Hard Drive

Your computer.  It’s an important part of your life.  Each day you use it to communicate with family and friends by email or Facebook, stay current on news and other events at your favorite websites, and print letters or other documents.  You may also copy pictures from your digital camera or smart phone and store them on your computer.

The one seemingly insignificant device you use every day holds the only copy of some of your most important information – pictures, music, letters, email addresses, family history, and more.

But most computer users are guilty of not backing up the files on their computer.  They never imagine that all of those items could be forever lost without warning and in just a click of a button.

Why should you back up?

The first reason you should back up your files is because computer hard drives fail 100 percent of the time.  It’s a matter of WHEN not IF.  As one person has said, “There are only two types of hard drives – the ones that have failed and the ones that will fail.”

Hard drives, where all of your files are stored on your computer, contain moving parts.  Over time, those moving parts wear out and fail.  If it is a catastrophic physical failure, it may be impossible for any files to be recovered from the hard drive.

With the recent surge in virus infections attacking computers, a second reason to back up your files is to protect them from being lost due to a nasty virus infection.  Sometimes a virus infection is so bad that the only way to remove it is to permanently erase everything on your hard drive and reinstall the operating system and programs.  Without a backup, all of your important files could be forever lost.

Third, performing regular backups allows you to recover a file that was accidentally deleted.  We’ve all done it – erased a file or folder from our computer thinking we didn’t need it any longer.  Then a day or so later, we realize we do need that file.  A good backup allows you to retrieve the last saved version of that file or folder.

Finally, backups protect your files in the event of a natural disaster, fire, or someone stealing your computer.  Recently, one of our clients brought in her laptop and had us perform our data backup service.  She called us about three weeks later thanking us for backing up her files to DVD because someone had broken into her house and stolen her laptop.  Without the backup we performed, she would have forever lost important documents and pictures.

What should you back up?

Although every person uses their computer for different purposes, there are some common things you should regularly back up:

  • Your email addresses – think of how long it would take to gather and re-enter those again
  • Your list of favorite websites stored in your web browser
  • Pictures saved on your computer (typically in the My Pictures folder)
  • All your documents, such as recipes, letters and spreadsheets (typically in the My Documents folder)
  • Your downloaded music files from iTunes (typically in the My Music folder)
  • Financial information from programs like Quicken, Microsoft Money or QuickBooks
  • Family tree information from programs like Family Tree Maker

How should you back up your files?

Backing up your files simply means keeping a copy of them in a separate location in the event of an emergency.  It is NOT wise to keep both copies of your files in the same place.  It is recommended that you have two backups on two different types of media in two physically different places.

One way to back up your files is to burn them to CD or DVD.  Most computers come with a CD/DVD burner installed, as well as software that allows you to copy your files to discs.  This method of backup is relatively inexpensive and very reliable.  The downside is that it can be time-consuming if you have a large number of files.

Another method of backing up your files is to copy them to an external hard drive.  The external hard drive connects to your PC by a USB cable.  Then you can manually copy the files from your computer to the external hard drive.  You can also purchase and install software that will automate the backup process for you.

If you have a high-speed Internet connection, a good method of backing up your files is to use an online backup service.  Your important files are automatically and regularly copied from your computer to their secure servers over the Internet.

Although it’s easy and cheap, do not use USB flash drives (also called thumb drives) as your primary backup device.  These devices are not designed for long-term storage.

Don’t wait to think about backing up your computer until it’s too late.  I’ve had the unpleasant job of breaking the bad news to clients that we are unable to save any of their files because their hard drive had failed, only to learn that they had not performed any backups.

Call us at Calibre Computer Solutions to protect your important files by setting up a reliable, inexpensive backup solution.