tKnowIT Padlock Dog

WannaCry – the public now know what ransomware can do

Disruption from Friday afternoon and over the weekend has been ‘unprecedented’. In the UK the big impact appears to have been felt by the NHS and this has brought it into the public domain with all of the associated press coverage. Ransomware should now be something that most people are aware of and hopefully they can look at ways to protect their computers.

The attack was not specifically targeted at the NHS and as the weekend rolled on and turned into Monday it became apparent that the attack was worldwide and included a number of US, European and Russian organisations and businesses.

Many commentators are suggesting the person(s) who launched the attack was an amateur but my response would be that this should be of great concern to us all if an amateur can get an attack to spread so rapidly and impact on so many machines. Also some are suggesting that the code of how to launch this attack was stolen from a US security agency (still think its an amateur?) and this agency had known about the security weakness in Microsoft Windows for some time but not reported it to Microsoft.

Microsoft did release a patch in March to resolve this but obviously not everyone had applied this to their systems. Security patches are important to apply as soon as possible but as with all patches they need to be tested before they are rolled out across all machines. Some people will still recall the days when patches often caused the Blue Screen of Death  (BSOD) making it more important to test every single patch but this is less of an issue nowadays.

tKnowIT Padlock DogThere are several things that can be done to minimise the exposure to attacks and the impact of them should they get through (and also reduce the impact of BSODs).

  1. Have a good Internet Security product. A managed one is preferable because then you can leave the settings, monitoring, etc to experts
  2. If it’s not part of the internet security suite then have a next generation ransomware layer of protection
  3. Automated patching of 3rd party applications such as Adobe Reader, Java, Firefox, Chrome, etc. To update them all manually or when prompted is too time consuming. Some 3rd party applications are essential for day to day tasks but they are the most commonly used point of entry for attacks.
  4. Patch Windows (and other operating systems) regularly. Check at least once a week, even if the device is set to automatically apply updates. Some updates require manually intervention, a bit of a push or several attempts.
  5. Have a backup or three. Make sure your data is backed up off the computer and/ or server. Ransomware can lock locally connected USB flash drives and hard drives making them useless to recover from so both local and cloud (offsite) copies of the data is recommended. If you can create an image of your entire computer then this also helps should your operating system be damaged by a virus, ransomware or one of those bad patches that results in a BSOD.

If you would like to discuss security, patching or backups then give us a on 01653 908069.

 

Be Safe

 

Nick Teasdale

 

 

tKnowIT Fax number is no more

For a number of years we haven’t had  a real fax machine or fax line to the office and instead we used an Internet Fax-to-Email service. Reviewing the usage over the last couple of years we’ve had 3 faxes, all from an advertising service which doesn’t cover our area anyway.

The internet fax-to-email service has been reliable, we assume, and extremely cost effective and much less than having a fax line rental and fax machine (and consumables) to pay for. If you still need to receive Faxes then we recommend the service.

As most people communicate with us by phone or email (and can scan things) we have removed the fax number from service.

Recovery Time Calculator

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Do you know how much money your business will lose whilst your systems are down or restoring ?

Click here to try out our Recovery Time Calculator to get an idea

The end for Windows XP

On 8th April 2014 Microsoft will end support for both Windows XP and Office 2003. Anyone running their business network with Windows Server 2003 servers should be already planning for end of support for this in 2015.

Windows XPWindows XP has been around for a long time and has been so popular that many users have stuck with it rather than moving to newer operating systems, probably because it was much more reliable than Windows 95, 98, Me (who remembers that one) and 2000 but also better received than its successor, MS Vista. Designed with internet and email access built-in, Windows XP connected with ease to printers, cameras and other peripherals and brought in new security measures for PCs.

If for no other reason, security should be why you replace your machine before April 2014. You will be familiar with the weekly updates your machine receives from Microsoft and many of these updates are to resolve security ‘holes’ found in the operating system. If you are running some internet security software this is unlikely to offer protection for Windows XP from April 2014 or shortly afterwards. This makes online banking and purchasing a very unsafe thing to be doing on a Windows XP machine.

Since the very unpopular MS Vista, and after listening to customers, Microsoft’s Windows 7 software worked with a much wider range of hardware, peripherals and software. Now Windows 7 has been superseded by Windows 8, designed to be easy to use on touch screens. This has not always gone down well with laptop and desktop users who have found it ‘long-winded’ to shut-down and some are annoyed by the ’tiles’.

Over the years Microsoft have released service packs to Windows operating systems which are typically a collection of bug and security fixes. Microsoft has recently released Windows 8.1 which could be taken as the first service pack for Windows 8 and reintroduced the Start button to make it easier to showdown desktops and laptops. Windows 8 also introduces and integrates more ‘cloud’ services.

So if you’re a Windows XP user where should you go next?

Jump ship from Microsoft-based PCs to Apple-based Macs.

Typically at the high-end of the price range of computers but users typically complain less about problems. You can also still get a version of MS Office for Macs if you need to create documents, spreadsheets and prefer MS Outlook as the email client.

Move to a Linux machine.

More difficult to source and more typically built by someone who is familiar with PCs and operating systems. They can work out to be fast and cheap.

Move to a Chrome machine.

Typically you will store everything in the cloud and rely upon a decent internet connection at all times.

Purchase a new Windows 8 PC.

Most computers in the high-street stores and online stores are still Windows based machines. Many of your programs can be reinstalled but also your data (documents, photographs, etc.) will be easy to transfer.

 

What if you’re an Office 2003 user?

You can upgrade to MS Office 2013 or one of the new MS Office subscription options.
Alternatively consider the free LibreOffice/OpenOffice Suites if you’re not bothered about Outlook for email and don’t need all the MS Office features but still need to edit Word/ Excel documents.

If you are a business user then feel free to try out one of the Microsoft Office365 options on a free 30 day trial or call tKnowIT to assist you.

Microsoft Windows 8.1 now available

 

Microsoft Windows 8.1 is now available as a free update to Windows 8 platforms.

Windows 8 works well on tablets but some people have found it slightly frustrating to use on a non-touch laptop or PC. Probably the most frustrating feature to most was how to shutdown or reboot the computer. Normally a tablet is not turned off but put into standby or sleep so there is no need for this to be obvious but when the same operating system is used on a laptop or desktop then a combination of mouse waiving and button clicking gets tricky.

windows 8.1

By reintroducing a Start button type icon in the bottom left corner of the screen most people should be happy again – even though most people only ever clicked the ‘Start’ button to turn off the PC. Left clicking on the button toggles between tile mode and desktop mode; right clicking the button brings up a number of options including access to the control panel and importantly the shutdown /reboot options.

Some of the other updates are more subtle but they will probably make windows 8 easier for people to use, who are familiar with windows 7, but may not be aware of all the things that happen when you put the cursor at the bottom of the screen or in the corners of the screen.

My test machine has been running windows 8 for a while and has performed much faster than windows 7 on the same hardware. Last night I downloaded the windows 8.1 update directly through the Windows Store on windows 8. Once you start the download that’s it until it asks you to reboot the machine. I have the luxury of an FTTC broadband connection so the download didn’t take too long and the windows 8 laptop is a Lenovo Edge15 core i5 (1st gen) , 4GB RAM and importantly an SSD drive (upgraded from original hard drive). The SSD probably made a big different to the speed of the upgrade process but the whole process took about 1 hour and required probably a couple of reboots for windows to discover hardware again and check settings , apps, etc.

After a few hours of use today I would have to say everything appears to be ok. I notice that some of the plug-ins for Internet Explorer (Java and Lenovo password vault) are disabled and a ThinkPad USB 3.0 Dock I use to connect the laptop to a couple of large screens , full keyboard and mouse whilst in the office did not display anything on the screens. Lenovo are usually on the ball with updates and although there was no update available via the system updater I found a link on their support forum to an update for the ThinkPad USB 3.0 Dock on another site. After downloading and running the update the two screens sprang back to life.

I found Windows 8 very easy to use and the inconvenience caused by the odd shutdown process was outweighed by the performance, boot times, etc. Windows 8.1 will hopefully make things even better and encourage others to make the change.

Linux: Revitalise your old computer for free

Not everyone can afford the latest Microsoft Windows 7 PC or Apple Mac and not everyone needs the speed they give to everything. Many people want something that can surf the web, let them email people and do ‘a few other things every now and again’ – all faster and with less crashing/freezing than their current system.

For a number of years there has been an alternative to Windows and Mac OS called Linux. There are a number of providers for this but the one I have used most often is Ubuntu. It’s free and has become easier to install, use and maintain.

Tux – The Linux Penguin

By default, it uses Mozilla Firefox as its Internet browser which will be familiar to people who use this on their PCs in preference to Internet Explorer. Evolution is an easy to use email and calendar program or you can use MozillaThunderbird instead and LibreOffice, also available for windows, offers the word-processing and spread-sheeting experience.

My test machine is a 5 year old Lenovo running a CoreDuo 1.8Ghz dual processor and 2GB RAM. With Internet Security and all the rubbish I had installed and uninstalled on this Windows XP machine it took over 5 minutes to start-up although it ‘wasn’t too bad’ once it was ready.

The same machine has been transformed by Linux. Less than a minute to start and fast response times when browsing, etc. I have no internet security installed to be fair and, although ubuntu is more secure, there are still benefits to having some added protection.

Ubuntu can be downloaded from www.ubuntu.comand burnt to a CD. You can then run it from the CD to decide if you like it – be aware that it will be slower running from the CD rather than the PC disk – then you can install it instead of, or alongside, your current windows system if there’s room on the disk. It will even copy your documents and photos across if you choose.

As always, make sure you have backed up everything important before you start.

Tablets: A long-term test

As with most new things, tablets have become the shiny must-have technology but are they practical for day-to-day use and can you replace your aging laptop or PC with one? Could you use one whilst out of the office instead of dragging around that cumbersome laptop? Could you use one at home or in the office instead of a PC or laptop?

For the last few months I have been working with an ASUS Transformer 101 (android) with optional keyboard/battery pack and an Acer Iconia W500 windows 7 tablet in addition to setting up other Android models and iPads for home and business users and also asking for their feedback and impressions.

For the hard-core gamer then, as with laptops, they are not going to replace the big tin box and even bigger monitor(s) you currently have.

They have proved popular with home users who want to check their emails quickly, browse and even buy from the internet. With near instant on then they are better than waiting for the PC to fire up. Free and low priced Apps mean that other tasks have also been made easier.

For businesses, like with their smartphones, users can check their central calendars, address book and emails quickly. It is even possible to work on office documents, intranets, SAGE, etc from Win7, android and iPad platforms – without spending a fortune.

Having used both the windows 7 tablet and android tablets I would say that, at the moment, the android is a better buy. Windows 8, out later this year, may change things but unless you must run software that only runs on a windows platform then it will be cheaper with an Android device.

Both the iPad and Android touchscreen keyboards are easier to use than the windows version but I couldn’t use one all day if I had a report to write. The ASUS with the optional keyboard is slightly quicker to use but still slightly cramped like a NetBook.

So, good for short spells but not a replacement for the main laptop yet.