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.

Oct 22

It isn’t free to pirate software

Before you look at the price tag of commercial software and choose to download a copy without buying it, you need to consider the consequences. Sure, not everyone who uses pirated software gets caught, but the price you will pay if you do is not worth it. It is much, much less expensive to simply purchase the software to begin with.

And don’t think that just because you’re a small business, they won’t mess with you.

An analysis by The Associated Press reveals that targeting small businesses is a lucrative strategy for the Business Software Alliance, the main global copyright-enforcement watchdog for such companies as Microsoft Corp., Adobe Systems Inc. and Symantec Corp.

Of the $13 million that the BSA reaped in software violation settlements with North American companies last year, almost 90 percent came from small businesses, the AP found.

Aug 12

Skype and Windows 10

If you have trouble with the sound not working when you receive Skype messages under Windows 10, there may be a simple fix.

windows-10-preview-normal-skype

Check the sound settings in Skype to ensure that the sound is set to use the proper speakers. Under Tools -> Options -> Audio Settings. It appears to default to digital sound, but if your computer does not have digital speakers, then you will hear nothing. Switch the setting to your regular speakers to hear the sounds again.

Aug 06

Playing DVDs on Windows 10 Home

compact_discChances are, if you upgraded to Windows 10 Home, you will be unable to play DVDs on your computer. Microsoft offers a fix for this, in the form of a $14.99 app, but there is another (free) solution.

In order to watch DVDs for free on your Window 10 computer, you will need two things:

  1. A DVD-ROM drive – either built-in or external (This will not allow you to watch Blu-ray – those need a different kind of player.)
  2. VideoLAN’s open-source desktop VLC software (not the VLC app in the Windows Store – it does not support DVD playback).

As VLC is installing, doublecheck that the “Discs Playback” is selected (it should be already, as that is the default). Finish the installation and run VLC, insert your DVD, and press CTRL-D to begin playback.

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