Author Archives: Local Computer Pros

What’s rotten at Apple

Has this happened to you recently? Your iPhone says you have an update available, but for various reasons — you need to be on Wifi, you need more available storage, you need to be attached to a computer — you can’t run it, so you constantly have a reminder that you can’t shut off and you can’t ignore. Really, really annoying.

I can’t help but compare recent updates with Apple and Android devices — a few weeks ago, my Android phone told me there was a major update available, and it installed, trouble-free, in about 6 minutes. No muss, no fuss.The phone restarted, and up came all my apps, just as I had left them. No weird interface changes, no removal of my passcode.

It just worked. Which is what they used to say about Apple. So what happened?

Apple updates have been taking at least half an hour, and will only install if you have over 1GB of free space on your phone, which is usually maxed out with videos and music — who leaves space for a system update? More often then not, recent Apple updates have been failing, and you have to reinstall and then restore your phone — so a good hour for what should be a simple upgrade. To add insult to injury, all your familiar programs are gone, replaced by “improved” versions that look ugly and have to be learned from scratch! What happened to the intuitive programs that they used to produce?

I know that Apple is doing everything they can to keep users using Apple devices exclusively, regardless of how the user is best served. iCloud barely works on Windows 7 and 8, and it doesn’t even exist for Android. My Samsung phone communicates flawlessly with my Sony Blu-Ray player, and even my Windows laptop will sometimes play on the Sony, too. So what’s up with Apple? Do they really think that forcing people into their ecosystem is the path to success? Because that seems like suicide to me, in an age of explosive connectivity.

Not to mention that it’s poison for the consumer. So think twice before buying into Apple until they start to play nice with others.

A Security Mindset Is The New Antivirus

For those of you who thought that having Norton installed on your computer was enough protection, I have some unpleasant news.

All those antivirus programs that you may be paying up to $80 per year to renew, are not very effective at catching today’s threats. Most hover around the 50 – 60% effectiveness range. It’s not because the programs aren’t good, it’s because they are written to look for known viruses. But malware authors these days create code that changes multiple times in a single day — there’s no way your virus signatures can keep up. A rep from Sophos told me that 85% of the viruses they see are new code.

So how can you protect yourself? Technology only goes so far and if you rely on it completely, it will fail you. The best protection is education and discretion. Before you click on that funny looking email link from a friend, ask yourself if your friend would send you a link with no explanation. Or if UPS really has your email address for that package.

Searches have become another favorite target for malicious hackers. Typing in something as innocuous as golden apple can bring up results from infected web sites, tailored just for you. Pay attention to what you’re about to click on! Google shows you the URL for each result in green below the title of the result. Check it before you click on it.

Modern browsers also have a feature that highlights the web site (URL) you are on in dark type. That should help you figure out if you’ve been redirected or hijacked.  Is it effortless? No. It takes some work on your part, but trust me, it’s worth it.

This isn’t to say that there’s no technology that will help. UTM routers, such as SonicWall or Fortigate (full disclosure: LCP is a reseller for Fortigate products and a SonicWall partner), look for behavior, not just known code, and they have shown themselves to be an effective first line of defense. I also like to install AdBlock Plus, a free add-on for most browsers. In Firefox and Chrome versions, it has a malware blocking feature as well which has to be manually activated.

In addition, “second opinion” antimalware products are becoming popular – I recommend Malware Bytes and Hitman Pro. Both can be run for free and are very effective at removing infections that get past your old school antivirus. Neither is a replacement for antivirus, however.

But in the end, it relies on you. Just as you lock your house or your car, don’t leave your computer unlocked – use strong passwords and common sense. And call us at Local Computer Pros if you have questions!

OK, Windows sucks. So where are all the alternatives?

I’ve been thinking recently about the long, dark shadow Microsoft has cast over computing, the decades of buggy, virus-prone operating systems that are stable at best and expensive resource hogs at worst. Offices have been forced to operate according to Microsoft’s dictates, rather than work in a truly innovative fashion.

But the real question is, why? Why has a substandard OS from Microsoft dominated computing to such a degree? How have they maintained a virtual stranglehold on computing? If they suck so bad, where are the alternatives? Let’s examine the playing field: Mac – lovely, reliable, expensive computers! Linux – hundreds of flavors of virus-free, resource-light systems that can adapt to just about every need. Google Chrome – inexpensive, fast Web-oriented devices, perfect for Web & email use, if that’s all you need. What do they all lack? Business software, of course. None of those systems can run Quickbooks (well, there’s a substandard version for Mac) or any of the myriad business applications out there. Without business buy-in, no one is willing to make an investment in anything above the least common denominator of Windows. Not to mention the fact that Microsoft has sued the pants off anyone who makes emulation software.

So how long will we be stuck with this lowest of common denominators? A couple more years, until Web-based business apps come of age. When all the work is done in a browser or Web-based interface and data are stored on a central server, the end user platform will become less relevant and companies will be able to buy for cost and reliability, which will naturally steer them away from Microsoft products and towards open source products such as Linux, Chrome and Android.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to Microsoft – without them, I’d be out of work! But I’m looking forward to a future where we can all innovate and create without being stuffed into Microsoft’s creaky, badly-fitting box.

The Cloud’s Future: Accessibility and Availability

As Internet use moves increasingly to “the Cloud” — meaning, files and apps that are stored on a device other than the one you’re working on — two factors will determine its success: accessibility and availability.

Accessibility means you have access to your files, your settings, your apps. The implication is that you and only you have access, unless you have shared it with others.

Availability means your files, settings and apps have to be available when you access them. That is from any device, from anywhere, at any time.

As we move forward, these factors will come into play more and more — you will want to be sure that you and only you can get to your stuff, and that your stuff is there when you want it. So far, we have seen relatively few disasters, but they have been noticeable. Can you trust Amazon, or Google, or Dropbox to keep your data accessible and available? Or is it possible that they could lose it, or be subject to a data breach?

On the other hand, how safe is your hard drive, your local backup? And what if someone sits at your computer? That’s an accessibility issue, too.

I see a hybrid option like Google Drive or Dropbox being the safest route for now. Files are stored on all your devices, and they are in the Cloud, as well. Google Drive can be configured to work with Google’s 2-step authentication, which I highly encourage everyone to implement.

I don’t have the space to go into it in this article, but strong passwords are more important than ever. Until there’s a better way, consult correcthorsebatterystaple.net for (relatively) easy to remember, strong passwords.

Farewell, Net neutrality – why its death is bad for you

Alas, Net neutrality – I knew it well, Horatio. A system of infinite fairness, where you paid the same amount, no matter which site you were trying to get to. If you’ve been following the news, you will have heard that Netflix basically caved to Comcast and agreed to pay them more to get to Comcast customers. This pretty much means a death knell for a system where all customers get equal access to all sites.

Here’s an example that already exists: Major League Baseball. If TV obeyed the rules of neutrality, you could watch a game no matter if you have cable, satellite, DSL or FiOS. As it works out, though, MLB makes contracts with the highest bidder, locking the others out. So you can only watch the Padres if you have Cox cable. If you have AT&T U-verse or Dish Network, you’re out of luck.

The Internet providers – Verizon, Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T etc. – have been trying to do a similar trick with the Internet. They want to make deals with the best Web sources and provide exclusive access with the difference that Comcast also wants to charge Netflix for distributing its content.  What that means to you and me is drastically higher costs for the services we want, and quite possibly, an MLB-style blackout for other providers.

Can you imagine a world where you can only get Netflix if you have cable, but you can only get Youtube if you have AT&T? Or how about a fee for each service you access, like the packages you get for TV now? We are dangerously close to that scenario. Here’s a very simple illustration.

We’re pretty much hosed at this point – the companies with the most money have all but won. But you can still help by contacting the FCC with this form: http://www.savetheinternet.com/sti-home. Please do. You’ll thank me later.

UK joins China in censoring Internet

The UK has joined the ranks of the Chinese in enforcing Internet censorship. The only difference? You UK has an “opt-out” rule — for now — if you don’t mind having your name on a watchlist.

According to Wikipedia,

There is an ongoing program to introduce a broad system of default blocking of certain types of content to all Internet users in the UK. New customers have their Internet access filtered at the ISP level so that certain web sites are blocked. A voluntary code of practice agreed by all four major ISPs means that customers have to ‘opt out’ of the ISP filtering to gain access to the blocked content. The range of content blocked by ISPs includes content tagged as the following:

pornographic
violent
extremist
terrorist
anorexia and eating disorders
suicide
alcohol
smoking
web forums
esoteric material
web-blocking circumvention tools

The scary part, of course, who is the judge in all this, and why does the government think it can (or should) do a better job than parents in keeping children away from that material?

More importantly is the issue of whether this sort of censorship will spread to the US. Our first amendment guarantees freedom of speech, but starting just after 9/11 the US government restricted freedom significantly for “safety and security” reasons.  Are we next?

I hope you are as disturbed as I am about this. Blocking illegal activity I understand. But pornography and eating disorders? What’s next? This is crackdown on basic rights, just the kind of thing the West has been chastising China for!

Welcome to the Brave, New World. Coming soon to an ISP near you — so be afraid. Speak out!

Pardon me, your ignorance is showing

The barrier to entry in IT support is alarmingly low. I see guys fresh out of high school claiming they can fix any computer for $25! While I understand the allure of saving money, warning bells should be going off. Below is an event that recently occurred where a client lost several months’ worth of email due to a careless IT group that wasn’t paying attention and had never tested their backup system.

I recently got an urgent call from a business because the boss’s email host had lost several months’ worth of her email, and she needed help in recovering it. I spent hours dealing with the email host, who HAD been the IT for this company. This guy did three unforgivable things in the world of IT:

1) He blamed the client
2) He did not check his backups
3) He did not understand the importance of email

Instead of immediately rolling back the email to a time prior to the loss, he insisted that the email must be somewhere on the client’s hard drive. This, despite the fact that the client had been using IMAP, a protocol in which the computer mirrors what’s on the server.

His ignorance further shone through when he recommended a system restore to fix email. Anyone in IT can tell you that a system restore won’t fix data. Even System Restore tells you that it will not affect your files!

Overall, the biggest issue was his lack of concern. His initial reply was that it was OK, she had all her emails from June, right? So she was only missing the last 5 months.

Be absolutely sure your IT department is testing backups and is backing up the right things!

It’s not you, it’s Yahoo that’s not working

Literally. Yahoo has made it perfectly clear that they are not interested in small business. After their disastrous handling of the ATT Yahoo breakup, they sent emails to millions of customers at unmonitored email addresses requiring business users to click on a link to accept new terms and conditions. They claim they sent the email about 3 times over the course of 6 months.

If you need help reactivating your account and transitioning to a reliable service, please contact us at (760) 944-5600. We have priority calls in right now.

Instead of trying to advise these business owners through normal channels, Yahoo simply decided to dump all the accounts. They chose the Thanksgiving long weekend as the perfect time to do that, so coming back after several days off, businesses found themselves missing a whole week’s worth of email and no prospects of a quick or easy fix.

What’s worse is that there is no way to fix the problem. Your domain and email settings are stuck in a deactivated account at Yahoo with no way to access them! Due to some brain-dead programming, Yahoo’s web registration sends you into a Catch-22: you can’t log in with your deactivated account, and you can’t set up a new account since the domain you want to activate is owned by a deactivated account. Really, this is about the most stupid programming I have ever seen.

To make matters even worse, Yahoo’s phone service has been down for what they call “unplanned maintenance.” The message you get tells you to hang up and send them an email. In fact, it will hang up on your call after 30 minutes on hold. That is the only department that can deal with the small business transition/mangling. No other Yahoo employee even has access to their system.

If you are a class action attorney, this is a perfect case for you! Please contact me — I have several clients who are dealing with loss of business due to Yahoo’s bungling.

It’s a shame how far Yahoo has fallen. I remember 10 years ago when they were riding high, and everyone was imitating them. Their best people have jumped ship, leaving inept programmers and understaffed customer service departments to try to fend off their inevitable decline into bankruptcy. I predict the remains of Yahoo will be the subject of a bidding war between Google and Microsoft in about 6 months’ time.

My advice? Stay away! Far away! Don’t rely on Yahoo for anything important to you!

For reference, FWIW:
Yahoo VP of Small Business, Amit Kumar www.linkedin.com/in/amitkumar
Yahoo corporate phone: 408-349-3300
Yahoo Customer Care 408-349-1572 Small Business reactivation line (mostly down) 866-849-8298

 

Buy Now for FY2013, and Protect Your Assets

If your business year ends December 31, this is the time to make year-end expenditures. Remember, anything purchased and put into use this year can be applied to offset taxes this year.

Keep in mind that Windows XP is going to be going out of support in April 2014, so any computer running XP in a business environment should be upgraded or replaced, so this might be a good time to look into that. There is no direct upgrade path from XP to Windows 7 (or 8, if you have a death wish) but your data and settings can be migrated. Call us at (760) 944-5600 or send an email to discuss.

Also, if you are running older networking hardware, you should consider upgrading to Gigabit switches and routers. The difference in speed over your local network will be immediately noticeable!

Lastly, if you have a home-grade router such as a Netgear or Linksys/Cisco, this would be an excellent time to upgrade your security with a Fortigate or SonicWALL product. These are designed for businesses with higher throughput and more security features than home routers. They can be customized to let in and out only the traffic that you want. With recent viruses like CryptoLocker going around, you need all the protection you can get!

CryptoLocker is just one example of ransomware that we are likley to be seeing in the future, where the perpetrator hijacks your files and demands a ransom. The runaway success of these malicious programs means that we will be seeing a lot more of them soon. The only thing standing between you and infection could be your router which has blacklisted the websites needed by the software to work.

As always, LCP is ready to help! And by the way, if you know of a business that can use our services, please refer us! We will make it worth your while.

Why The Adobe Breach Was Bad For Everyone

Last week, hackers broke into Adobe’s servers and stole a number of things, most notably:

  • Millions of encrypted user accounts with email, passwords and credit card numbers, and
  • Source code for Adobe’s high end products such as Acrobat and ColdFusion.

At a consumer level, you are affected by this in a couple of ways, both bad. As always, be very careful about where you obtain your software! Purchase Adobe products only from reputable sources, such as Adobe.com and Amazon.com. Cracked products usually contain malicious code that your antivirus software probably won’t detect. We also need to be concerned about Adobe products in general, until Adobe can verify that the products on their site are legitimately their code. The fact that hackers could get into the site means they had the ability to change the code for legitimate downloads from Adobe’s own site.

As for the encrypted passwords, a breach like this is a hacker’s dream — they can spend weeks or months practicing breaking the encryption. Once they do, even if you have changed your password, hackers now have a better understanding of not only how to crack passwords, but also what passwords people choose.

Again, all around bad news with the following takeaways:

  • Be vigilant about where you purchase your software, and update your Adobe products regularly!
  • Use long, strong passwords. I recommend using a password manager (Firefox’s built-in, LastPass or Roboform) and a password generator like http://www.correcthorsebatterystaple.net to generate strong passwords.