Sep 12

Microsoft Patch Fixes Security Issues – Released 9/12

This month’s patch released by Microsoft for Windows users is one you should probably get. With 82 security bugs killed, this patch also includes a fix for a vulnerability called “zero-day” which has been exploited already.

What is a zero-day attack?

This is a vulnerability that affects the .NET Framework that, when exploited, may allow a hacker control of an affected system. This includes the ability to “install programs, view, change, or delete data; or create new accounts with full user rights,” according to Microsoft. “Users whose accounts are configured to have fewer user rights on the system could be less impacted than users who operate with administrative user rights.”

Three other flaws that were discovered that are fixed by this patch have not been exploited yet; it’s wise to patch your system before you can be affected by exploits using these bugs.

A full list of the bugs being patched can be viewed at BleepingComputer.com.

Sep 02

Dealing With Slow Wi-Fi?

Wi-fi – or wireless internet – is everywhere these days. You can get it free at hotels, restaurants, and sometimes even in your neighborhood (but you really shouldn’t). But not every wireless access point (AP) is equal. Some wi-fi is blazing fast, while other connections are turtle-slow. So what can you do?

In case you don’t already know the basics of how routers work, let’s give you a quick rundown. Wi-fi data transfers use radio frequencies – either 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz (with the faster one being the newer standard). Most of today’s routers allow you to choose which, and smart routers can pick automatically to be sure you’re using the best option. Each frequency has multiple channels: 2.4 GHz has 14 and 5 GHz has 30.

The first thing you need to do to fix slow wi-fi is to ascertain the cause of the speed limitation. Let’s look at some possible causes and how to fix them.

Where is your router?

Where you place your wi-fi router matters. Even moving it just a couple inches can make a really big difference in your connection. Consider these factors:

  1. Height

    : Most people tend to plug in their router into the most accessible outlet and then just set it nearby wherever they can. However, a low shelf (or the floor) are not the optimal location for your wi-fi router. Mounting the router on the wall, up high, away from things that may block or hinder the signal is a better plan.

  2. Surrounding Materials

    : Concrete, metal items, and other electronics can interfere with signal strength and placing your router in a basement is almost certainly going to cause problems with the signal.

  3. Distance

    : While some people want the router to be a background item and not front-and-center, it is important to consider that distance degrades signal. When the router is nearer to the user, the signal strength – and speed – will be better. Your best bet is to place it as close as possible to the center of your home. If you have a large house, or if you don’t have a strong router, then you may want to look into an extender or repeater.

Is Something Interfering?

There are wireless signals all over everywhere! Because you can’t see them, it makes it harder to know what might interfere. To help identify these sources, there is an app available for iOS and Android called “The Architecture of Radio” by Richard Vijgen. It shows public information on satellites, cell towers, and wi-fi to map out the signals around you. Even though the wi-fi frequencies are different from most of these sources, you may still see interference from radio noise.

Some of the sources of signals that can be detrimental to your wi-fi speed include:

  1. Microwaves

    – mainly on 2.4 GHz routers, which are very close to microwaves’ 2.45 GHz frequency, and actually encompasses it, as these routers fluctuate between 2.412 GHz and 2.472 GHz. Usually, microwaves are sufficiently shielded, but poor shielding or damage can allow interference.

  2. Bluetooth

    – these devices also operate at 2.4 GHz. While they are meant to be properly shielded, some are poorly designed and “leak.” Additionally, Bluetooth devices are made to rotate randomly through 70 different channels in an attempt to reduce frequency clash, with changes up to 1600 times every second. The newer ones can avoid channels that are in use or “bad” but interference can still occur occasionally.

  3. Holiday lights

    – the small lights made for holidays such as Halloween or Christmas can give off an electromagnetic field that can disrupt your wi-fi signal. This is more common in lights that flash. Even the LED lights that use flashing chips can cause interference. For that matter, regular light fixtures can have a similar issue, but usually their electromagnetic fields are too small to be a problem.

  4. Neighbors

    – there is a possibility that some (or many) of your neighbors may have wi-fi networks, as well. This can result in an overlap of channels. This is more of an issue in apartments, but can still be an issue in townhouses and even single-family dwellings in houses that are set close to each other. This, too, is usually more of a problem for the older, 2.4 GHz routers, because they are limited to 14 channels. Because of this, while routers are made to choose channels automatically, it can be better to choose the best one yourself and set it.
    Another way neighbors can be an issue to your wi-fi speed is by piggybacking on your network. It is important to have a password protected router with a hard-to-break password, and up-to-date firmware on your router. Check your network occasionally to be sure no suspicious devices are connected.

  5. Family

    – people living in your home can affect the speed. If someone is playing an intensive online game, streaming a movie, or downloading a large file, these are some of the things that can slow down the overall speed of the network, and, by extension, the wi-fi signal. There are ways to adjust which computers or devices get preference within your network.

If none of these apply, but your wi-fi is still slow, give us a call and we’ll help you troubleshoot! 256-520-7327

Sep 01

Don’t Steal Wi-Fi

So you’re sitting there playing on your phone, tablet, or desktop, and messing with the wi-fi. You notice an unsecured (open) wi-fi connection available with four bars and connect. It’s flying! Woot!

WAIT!

 

OK, yes, there are a lot of open wireless connections around. Sometimes it’s because they don’t know how to password it. Sometimes it’s because they don’t realize others can connect to it. Sometimes it’s because they want to mess with people. Regardless, connecting to a neighbor’s unsecured wi-fi is a bad idea.

Why?

Well, first of all, it’s illegal.

If your neighbor is unaware that you’re connecting and has not given you permission to do so, it is illegal for you to connect to – steal – his wi-fi.

Also, it’s potentially dangerous.

While the most common situation is that the neighbor is not very computer literate, there are at least two ways that this can be dangerous.

  • Your neighbor might NOT be computer illiterate… you may be neighbor to a hacker.
  • Your neighbor might be more lacking net-savvy than you think, and could pick up a virus – which may then be transmitted to your connected device.

So, yeah. This is one of those things where the saying, “Just because you CAN, doesn’t mean you SHOULD” applies. If you want wireless internet, either purchase your own router, or go to a public hotspot, such as a restaurant or park, where they offer free wi-fi.

May 09

Apple Users, Watch Out for Snake

Malwarebytes just noted that Snake malware will now affect Mac computers. If you have an Apple OS computer or device, be aware of this threat! Read more on Malwarebytes.com by clicking the above link.

If you think you may have been infected, call Robert at 256-520-7327 and he can check it out for you.

Apr 28

Beware Ransomware

There are some particularly troublesome ransomware emails going around. One of our customers, in the course of business, opened an attachment that looked valid and found themselves victims of ransomware – software that encrypts all data with a virtually unbreakable key which they offer to sell at a very steep price.

If you are required by your business to open attachments to emails, there are some things you can do to minimize the risk of being victimized by ransomware.

1. Verify the sender.
– Check the email address in the “from” area. If it does not match the email address that is usually used for that company’s email, do not open the file before contacting the company to be sure they actually sent it.
– If you were not expecting a file from that company, contact them to be sure they actually sent it.

2. Do NOT enable macros.
– The ransomware is triggered by enabling macros and then allowing the file to open and run. By the time you realize what happened, it’s too late.
– If a company with whom you regularly do business contacts you and tells you to expect a file that needs macros, then it should be safe to run them on that file, but otherwise, do not.

3. Back up regularly.
– You should do an image backup every three to six months. If you need assistance with setting this up, please contact Robert at 256-520-7327.
– Keep an offsite backup. Important data should be backed up more often – probably at least weekly. Software like Carbonite and Mozy can be set up to do regular backups. Robert can help you with setting this up, as well.

4. Remember that networks connect machines.
– If one machine on your network contracts the ransomware, ALL computers on your network will be affected. It is, therefore, important to be sure all employees at your place of business are aware of the above information, and all computers are regularly backed up.

You can find more information about ransomware at Bleeping Computer.

Apr 10

Beware of Scam Emails!

If you open your email and see one that has this appearance (it may be for domain renewal or other services), it is a scam.

We received emails for both domain renewal and other services this week.

IF YOU RECEIVE ONE, call your host. DO NOT click on links in the email. DO NOT pay money to the sender.

Jan 15

Got Windows 10 yet? If you get a new computer, you must.

According to an article on ZDNet, Microsoft has stated that new CPUs will require Windows 10. There will be a few systems that will temporarily support other versions (18 months only), but any new PCs built with new CPU chips will require Windows 10.

Because Microsoft has supported previous Windows operating systems for 10 years after release, PC users often hang on to an older OS until something forces them to upgrade. While this policy is still – more or less – in force, Windows 7 and 8.1 will both be supported for several years yet; however, the policies for this support have changed. Support will only be offered for previous CPUs (referred to in the following quote as “silicon”):

Going forward, as new silicon generations are introduced, they will require the latest Windows platform at that time for support… Windows 10 will be the only supported Windows platform on Intel’s upcoming “Kaby Lake” silicon, Qualcomm’s upcoming “8996” silicon, and AMD’s upcoming “Bristol Ridge” silicon.

We have found that Windows 10 is a stable, enjoyable version of the operating system. It is much preferred to Windows 8.x and offers a Windows-7-like interface with improvements to the operation and user-friendliness. We are currently in a window where upgrading to Windows 10 from Windows 7 or 8.x is without charge, but this timeframe will end this year. If you need assistance with upgrading to Windows 10, please feel free to give Robert a call at 256-520-7327.

Jan 09

Windows 8 users, take note!!

Microsoft usually supports its operating systems for 10 years; however, this is not true for Windows 8. Even though it has only been out for three years, support for Windows 8 is being withdrawn as of January 12. Following that date, there will be no more patches or updates.

It is easy to get around this – updating to Windows 8.1 will allow continued security updates, as will upgrading to Windows 10.

This is happening because Microsoft has termed 8.1 a “service pack,” which has a policy of only allowing two years. ZDNet has the formal service pack policy as follows:

Unlike service packs that are typically just a collection of fixes, Windows 8.1 has new features and enhancements. We designed Windows 8.1 to give customers an ability to deploy this update in a manner that is similar to how customers deploy service packs, therefore we are applying the existing service pack support policy to Windows 8.1.
[For] Windows 8, support ends 24 months after the next service pack releases or at the end of the product’s support lifecycle, whichever comes first. If you are using software without the latest service pack you won’t be offered any new security or non-security updates, although preexisting updates will continue to be offered.

The two years for updating is about to expire, so if you are still running Windows 8.0x, sooner is better than later for updating. The update from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 is free, but must be obtained from the Windows Store instead of Windows Update. The only version that requires payment for upgrade is Windows 8 Volume License that does not include Software Assurance.

If you need assistance in upgrading, please give us a call at 256-520-7327.

Nov 23

More Power!

computer-chip-pd

You might have upgraded your computer to be an awesome gaming computer – either by adding or changing parts, or by purchasing a newer, more powerful system – and you may be thrilled with its specs and performance… but you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!

Next year, according to PC World, Intel is looking at installing its “most powerful chip to date” into a limited quantity of desktop computers. They call it the Knights Landing chip, and it is a 72-core processor with 8 billion transistors. “As usage expands,” PC World‘s article says, “hopefully PC makers and other partners will sign on to sell Xeon Phi desktops… The Knights Landing chip can deliver over 3 teraflops of peak performance, which is roughly in the range of some high-performance graphics chips used in the world’s fastest supercomputers.”

While it is unlikely that the average gamer will be able to shell out the cash required to procure a workstation with this chip, there’s no doubt that the experience of playing a game with awesome graphics set to max settings would be amazing and unforgettable.

Nov 02

The BSA & Piracy Fines: Protecting Your Business

tl;dr: Own a license for EVERY copy of software on EVERY computer at your company, and keep your receipts! Violators can be fined, and CEOs can be held liable.

compactdiskWhen you are looking at what software is needed for your applications at work, regardless whether your business is large or small, you often have a strict budget to which you must adhere. This can make it tempting to use software inappropriately – either by using “someone’s copy” to put it on all your business computers, by purchasing a single copy and installing it on several computers, or even by finding a “free” copy someone has put up for download (that is called pirating).

It is very important to resist these temptations. The Business Software Alliance (BSA) makes it a point to ferret out and penalize those who choose to use these methods – all of which are a form of stealing. While the BSA is not a law enforcement agency, it is given power of attorney by the software companies it represents, which includes such companies as Microsoft, Symantec, Adobe, McAfee, Autodesk, and Intuit, among others.

Every time you install a piece of software, you are required to agree to the End-User License Agreement (EULA), which includes information about how many computers on which you may install the software. It is common for people to click “agree” without actually reading the text, but whether or not you read it, you are still responsible for the information contained therein.

Abuse of software licenses can result in financial penalties and legal
costs. Additionally, company executives can be held individually liable,
both criminally and civilly, for any copyright infringement that occurs
within the organization. –Licensing and Compliance Guide

In order to prove that you legally own the license for the software you have purchased, you must keep the receipt. If you do not have a valid, dated proof of purchase, the software is treated as an illegal copy by the BSA, and is included in the proposed fines (which are paid in settlement to avoid litigation).

Each copy of the software is estimated separately – and this includes each individual item in a bundled suite. For example, Microsoft Office would not result in one fine for the Office suite, but rather in 5-7 (depending on the version) – Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, etc. The proposed fine takes the retail price of the software and multiplies it by three. Also included will be up to $5,000 for BSA’s attorney fees. To get an idea of what you might be fined, BSA has a fine calculator on their Resources page.

Small businesses are not immune to this organization. In fact, the BSA has been known to intentionally target small businesses. Almost 90% of the $13,000,000 the BSA collected last year in North America was from small businesses. Unfortunately, most of their income is gotten because of confusing license agreements, headstrong employees, or lost receipts for valid copies of software.

Barbara Rembiesa founded a company named International Association of Information Technology Asset Managers (IAITAM) whose aim is to teach businesses to properly manage software. She feels that the rules are not well known or understood, and fines for noncompliance are improper, stating, “If you were driving down the street and you got a speeding ticket, and there was no speed limit sign, it probably would be thrown out of court.” Microsoft does, however, offer a Licensing and Compliance Guide on their website.

One of the rules that may not be realized is that when a newer computer is purchased for a technical purpose, and the old computer is going to another user, any software copied to the newer computer should be deleted from the old one. Even if the software is never used by the user to whom it is ‘handed down,’ the fact that the software is still installed on the computer – if the company has only one license for it – is a violation. For example, Mike Lozicki of MediaLab Ventures LLC in Tampa, Florida, was contacted by the BSA, who found about 12 percent of their software not in compliance, even though most of it was not being used.

If you purchase a used computer for your business, you will want to wipe out any existing software and start fresh, as each program on the computer for which you have no receipt is liable for a fine.

According to copyright law, each infringement could be fined $150,000 – that would include each piece of software, on each computer that is deemed in violation – or $30,000 if it was unintentional. BSA’s legal affairs head, Neil MacBride, says that by using smaller fines, violators are given a break.

However, BSA encourages disgruntled employees to report companies for alleged software violations. Before 2005, it was just encouragement; however, in 2005 the BSA began offering a reward of up to $50,000, which was raised to $200,000 in 2014 and $1,000,000 in 2015. The actual reward given is a percentage of the amount collected by BSA, however, and the one-million figure would only actually become a reality if the informant’s lead gained the BSA $15 million. The most the BSA has ever collected from one company to date is $3.5 million. Still, offering a reward at all is viewed by some as unethical.

Client Access Licenses (CALs):
1. Are your company’s workstations networked?
2. If so, is your company using any of the following Microsoft Server products?

  • BackOffice® Server
  • BizTalk™ Server
  • Commerce Server
  • Content Management Server
  • Exchange Server
  • Host Integration Server
  • Internet Security and Acceleration Server
  • Mobile Information Server

If you answered YES to the above questions or for more information on each
of these products and the corresponding CAL and per-processor licensing
obligations and options, please see:
http://www.microsoft.com/piracy/samguide/tools/cal_guide/default.asp
Licensing and Compliance Guide

Regardless, in order to protect your business, it is very important to make sure that:

  1. You own a license for EVERY copy of EVERY commercial software item installed on EVERY computer in your business, and
  2. You have the dated receipt that proves that ownership.

Anything less could make you a target for the aggressive BSA, resulting in large fines, at best, or even jail time or loss of your business.

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