Updates keep you safe!

Computers continue to advance at a rapid pace and the Internet has expanded to the point it encompasses our everyday lives. Moving just as quickly is the downside to all this technology, those exploiting flaws. The Internet is overrun with exploit sites and viruses that are looking to take advantage of vulnerabilities in software, this is why keeping your system up to date is all the more important.

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Updates, whether for the operating system or an application, are vitally important to keeping you safe. These updates are almost always a security fix rather than a feature change. As each new exploit is found, developers work hard to fix these and release them to the public.

Installing updates is a fairly simple process as the operating system or program will alert the user there are updates waiting. While some may view it as an inconvenience to stop what they are doing to install, the inconvenience is small compared to fixing an infection the update would have prevented. Some even give the option to install automatically to minimize the impact on the user.

Microsoft has recently changed their update policy to better reflect the current atmosphere. Where users could disable updates all together, in Windows 10, home users have no choice. Microsoft also sped up the delivery on these updates. It used to be once a month a batch of updates where released. Now, in Windows 10, the updates are released once they have been developed. This not only helps speed up the update process, but keeps your computer better protected.

As long as computers continue to be a part of everyday life, we can count on dealing with viruses and exploits. One of the many ways a user can help shield themselves is to keep the operating system and programs up to date.

Written by: Andrew Owen, MCP

If you need assistance with your PCs or software updates, please contact our experts today! http://www.hccsinc.com

 

“Will you be able to recover my files?”

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As our lives become more intertwined with the digital world, the importance of protecting these bits of ourselves becomes greater. A frequent question we are asked when given a computer that is not functioning properly is, “Will you be able to recover my files?” Depending on the scenario this can be quite a costly endeavor. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so too is the value of having a good backup.

Microsoft also recognizes the importance of backing up your files and has included a backup utility in their operating system for some time now. A utility that has evolved right along with the way users interact with their files. However, no matter which iteration you have it is of no value unless it is used and used properly.

Before you begin backing up your files it is important to have a good place to store them. We recommend getting an external hard drive with a capacity at least the size of the hard drive in your computer, preferably twice that. This will give you enough room to store several copies of your files and protect these files in case of a hard drive failure in your computer.

The next thing you will want to do is establish some schedule for backing up the files. When using the older backup utility found in Windows 7 and older, this entails picking a day of the week and time. As the backup can take several hours to complete, you will want to pick a time where you are less likely to be using the computer heavily. If you run it weekly, the time needed will not be too bad, but at a minimum you will want to run it monthly. If you have a Windows 8 or newer machine, Microsoft phased out their old utility in favor of something called File History. This is a constant backup, so beyond the initial first run, this will take no time. Best of all is runs constantly and saves your files when it detects a change and even lets you restore an older version if you made a change by accident.

No matter what your case is, having a good and current backup is almost always worth it. It brings peace of mind and can save you considerable money in the event your computer heads south. If you are not comfortable with setting up your own backup or just want some reassurance you did it correctly, give us a call. We are always happy to lend a helping hand.

By: Andrew Owen, MCP, Tech Services @HCCS, INC.

 

Discover the “Heritage difference” in network administration & tech support

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FALL IN LOVE WITH TECH SERVICES!  

MEET THE TECH: Andrew Owen, MCP

For 25 years, HCCS, Inc. has provided technology solutions for individuals and businesses in various industries, but you may be surprised to learn that even we rely on a technician to keep our computer network and equipment running smoothly.  We are so committed to providing quality services, we even offer Microsoft Certified technical support for our clients!   In today’s computer era, small businesses have to keep up with the pace of new technologies to stay relevant.  The only techs we trust with your technology are the same technicians we trust to care for our own network and equipment.  Andrew Owen, MCP, leads our tech services department, providing a myriad of network administration and computer services.  He does a little bit of everything, from troubleshooting printer issues over the phone to personally setting up a home or business network.

“I take a lot of joy from helping someone out, no matter how simple or complex,” Andrew says.  “Everyone needs help from time to time, so it is great when you can be the one lending a hand.”

Andrew lends his expertise to clients who recognize a technician is essential to maintaining a healthy and functional network.  He says his calling to provide technical support comes from his own passion for experiencing new technology, and the speed at which it moves and develops.

“I am a fan of shining new things and learning new skills,” Andrew claims.  “With the pace at which technology evolves being so fast, it really does make [information technology] an interesting field, as there is always something new and exciting just around the corner.”

For consumers, new and exciting technology often means new and frustrating issues with your computers, network and security. Luckily for our clients, Andrew provides technical support and training to help everyday users become masters of their own technology.  He recommends hiring an IT specialist to anyone who works with computers.

“You get prompt service, and can leverage expertise when you need it,” Andrew says. “It also allows you to build up a rapport and get comfortable with those taking care of your equipment.”

Andrew has some advice for computer users to keep their equipment healthy:

“Install updates on a regular basis and keep your antivirus up to date,” Andrew suggests.  “Be sure what you download and install is something you want, and read everything closely before clicking that button.”

Of course, you know who you can call if something does go wrong with your technology: Andrew Owen, MCP,  HCCS, Inc. 913-529-4227.

HCCS Holiday Shopping Guide 2014

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Are you asking the right questions about your technology purchase?

Buying the perfect gift is hard, but when you are purchasing technology for someone else, it can be even more stressful.  Before you jump on that Cyber Monday deal for a new tablet or computer this holiday, it is important to research the device fully to make sure your bargain is not lacking any important hardware or software features.  When we purchase new technology for the company, we entrust this responsibility to our IT department, but not everyone has a Tech on hand to address concerns.   So, what questions should consumers ask before purchasing a new device?

What is the device being used for?

It is important to determine how a device will be used before deciding which version of the device is right for you. For example, a person who is on the go will probably prefer a laptop over a desktop computer.  A person using a device for business will have different needs and expectations for it than a person using a device for personal or recreational reasons. For instance, a gaming device may require better graphics than a business device.  Knowing how the user will utilize the technology helps determine which device is best suited for their individual needs.

What is included on the device already?

There are certain hardware and software components vital to determining which device is best suited for your gift.  When looking at a new device, consider the hardware requirements for the way it will be used.  If it will be purposed for gaming, it is important to look at the memory requirements, processing speed and hard-drive space necessary to run a game or specific software.  If the device will be used for business, does it come with Microsoft Office or will the user also need to purchase additional software?  Some of the holiday promotions and special offers are available for a reduced price because the device is not fully furnished. Once you know the answer to question 1, it is easier to determine your system requirements and verify that the sale item contains everything the full price device includes.

What happens if it breaks?

When disaster strikes, it is good to have a plan in place.  That’s why it is so important to get a device with a warranty.  Find out the return policy before you purchase a new device, so there are no surprises.  Many stores will not accept returned computers if they have been removed from their packaging, and even unopened devices sometimes only allow a refund of store credit.  Depending on where you purchase your new technology, the vendor may have a store warranty to cover the device, or there may be a manufacturer’s warranty.  Sometimes there is an option for both! Be sure to ask the vendor who will honor the warranty on your new device.

When you encounter an enticing sale price this holiday shopping season, use this guide to research the device, and make sure the deal includes everything you want from your new technology.

Happy hunting and Happy Holidays from Heritage Computer Consulting & Services, Inc.

Beware of new Phishing attack disguised as an update! Photo examples in post….

The Internet is great for providing entertainment, information, or anything else you could imagine. It is also filled with malware and other programs that cause harm to your computer. One of the methods these programs use to infect your computer is called phishing.

Think of it like actual fishing. A piece of bait is used to draw the target’s attention. Once that bait has been taken, the program is then installed. Sometimes the programs cause more annoyance than actual harm. Other times they quietly steal your personal information and pass it along. Here are some tips you can follow to help limit your chance of falling victim to a phishing scheme.

1.  Never download or install anything unless you are sure of what it is. A lot of the time, these phishing attacks pose as one thing but are really something different.
2.   Be wary of any windows that popup while you are on the Internet. More often than not, it is a phishing attack hoping you will click on it.
a. When you close any popups, always use the X in the upper right corner. Pay close attention that you are clicking the correct X. Sometimes these popups are cleverly designed and have their own X they hope you will click on.
3.   Along the same lines, be cautious when clicking on anything telling you software is out of date, especially when on the Internet. Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome do not alert the user in a popup. If you see any of these, close them by using the X in the upper right corner.
4.   Be skeptical of any window or popup stating your computer is infected. This is one of the more popular phishing schemes. Antiviruses are smart enough to work without you telling it to clean your computer. Your safest bet is to just close the Window. If you really have an infection it will alert you again.

We have added a few pictures of various phishing attacks. Remember to be 100% sure of what you are downloading and close any obnoxious popups with X in the upper right corner. Following these simple rules should make your time on the Internet more enjoyable.

 

Mobile Security, Part II: Managing your passwords securely

Many consumers are questioning the security of their mobile transactions and monitoring their online accounts and digital assets more carefully in recent weeks.  With scares like Heartbleed and the breach in Target consumer information in recent months, the threat of identity theft and website fraud seems to be on the rise.  According to a web article by USA Today, their user survey showed consumers are checking personal online banking accounts and credit card balances more frequently to better monitor fraud.   With all the anxiety and upheaval surrounding these security concerns, many users are adapting the method of keeping different passwords for different websites, in an attempt to be more secure.

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In our last post we addressed how to develop a secure password or passphrase for your devices, applications, and websites.  Another challenge to users is the amount of passwords individuals are expected to remember for different apps, websites, personal online accounts, business account access, and sometimes also school account access.  It is not recommended to store sensitive information on your mobile device, so how do you record that information for reference while still maintaining separate passwords for security purposes?  Our experts have a few ideas for storing and recording sensitive information on your computer or mobile device.

 

  1. DO NOT RECORD PASSWORD INFORMATION: One of our technicians specializes in network security and administration for our company and our clients.  He says he never records password information for his personal accounts because it is too risky.  If he forgets his password, he prefers to go through the website’s recovery prompts to retrieve or reset his log-in information.
  2. TRY NOT TO STORE PASSWORDS ON MOBILE DEVICES: While there are exceptions to every rule, our technicians suggest passwords and personal data be stored as little as possible on mobile devices.  If you feel you must write down or record your password to remember it, make sure you don’t label it as such, and then keep it in a safe place.  Some users even develop a code to help them remember their log-in information!  For instance, if your password is a name and number that is significant to you, it would be easy to create a code or some prompts to help jog your memory!  Let’s say your password is the year you were born and the name of your street:  1975Mastin. Your reminder prompt could say: birth year (YYYY)street (M—-n) to give you an idea how many characters are in the password, and a clue as to the code you used.
  3. USE A SECURE SPREADSHEET TO ORGANIZE SENSITIVE INFORMATION: There are security risks associated with storing any data, no matter the method, but some users like to organize their sensitive information in a password-protected spreadsheet on their laptop or desktop computer. If that is the method you choose, please use our tips to develop a strong password to protect your digital assets! For our administrative staff accessing multiple vendor sites each day, this method is preferred.  This way it is easy to copy and paste information from the spreadsheet, so it becomes less of a chore to change the passwords regularly.

Different methods work better for different users.   As soon as you find a method that suits you, your personal information will be much more safe and secure.   Now that you know how to keep your information safe at home, make sure you check out our next post about safe browsing on your mobile device over public Wi-fi.

 

By: Lacey Rickert, Marketing Director at HCCS, Inc.

 

Reference: http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/06/03/internet-security-survey/9907947/

Mobile Security, Part I: Tips to Develop a Strong Password

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Identity theft and online account security is a popular discussion amongst users of mobile devices.  It’s a hot topic because computer hackers are constantly finding new ways to scam the everyday user.  As technology continues to grow, the potential for security risks online will also increase.  Just last week, many consumer sites announced the discovery of a serious security flaw called the “Heartbleed bug” affecting the website encryption software  protecting the sensitive personal data of millions of web consumers.  According to Mashable.com, companies with popular sites such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, and Yahoo acknowledged the Heartbleed bug last week, and issued a security patch to fix it.  (The same article also lists these sites as potential Heartbleed victims: Etsy, GoDaddy, Flickr, Netflix, Soundcloud, Dropbox, OKcupid, Wikipedia and Youtube.)   The affected companies urged users to change their passwords immediately in order to remain secure on their sites.  Heritage also encourages users to change their online passwords regularly in order to protect sensitive personal information.  Whether on a laptop, tablet, or mobile phone, the first line of defense against hackers and other potential security risks is a strong password.

In their post, “Tips for creating strong passwords and passphrases,” Microsoft says a strong password is a code that has 8 characters or more and contains both uppercase and lowercase letters, a numerical character, and a symbol.  It is best to avoid using your username, real name, company name or other publicly available information in your code.  Unfortunately, hackers have all the tools on their side to help crack your code. To develop a strong password, first make sure it does not contain a word from the dictionary.  If you use an English word for your password, Microsoft suggests substituting numerical characters for some letters in the word to meet the strong password criteria.  In their example, Microsoft says the password “Hello2U!” meets all the criteria of a strong password but would still be considered weak because it contains a complete word.  A stronger alternative password suggestion is “H3ll0 2 U!” because it breaks up the real word with numbers and spaces.

There are many methods for developing a strong password, but at Heritage, we prefer to develop a strong passphrase instead.  A passphrase is just a series of words that create a phrase the user can remember easily.  According to Microsoft, a strong passphrase contains at least 20-30 characters, and does not contain common phrases found in literature or music, like song lyrics or a line of poetry.  As with passwords, it is more secure if the passphrase does not contain your username, real name, company name, any repeats of prior passwords, or personal information that is publicly available.  The long phrase creates a more complex code to help protect the user’s sensitive information.

Another challenge to users is the amount of passwords individuals are expected to remember for different apps, websites, personal online accounts, business account access, and sometimes also school account access.  It is not recommended to store sensitive information on your mobile device, so how does one record that information for reference while still maintaining separate passwords for security purposes?  In our next post, “Mobile Security, Part II: Managing your passwords securely,” the experts at Heritage discuss safe ways to store your log in information.

 

By: Lacey Rickert, Marketing Director, HCCS, Inc.

Read More about the Heartbleed Bug here

Mashable.com’s “Heartbleed Hit List” of affected sites

Windows 8.1 Users must update before May 13th, 2014 to avoid security risks

Attention Windows 8 Users

Microsoft released a new update for Windows 8.1 earlier this week that has some users disgruntled. According to Microsoft, Windows 8.1 users will not receive security patches or any other system updates in the future unless they download and install this new update before May 13th, 2014. Users who choose not to deploy the update will be at risk for security issues on their systems, and ineligible for future patches and feature enhancements. The update requirement only affects Windows 8.1 users.

Users who utilize the automatic updates feature on their Windows device should already have the update downloaded and installed since it became available April 8, 2014. If you aren’t set up to install updates automatically, you will need to look for the update KB2919355 specifically, and download and install it to your device. The deadline to download and install this update is May 13th, 2014. Microsoft offers assistance with device updates in most of their store locations.

By: Lacey Rickert, Marketing Director HCCS, Inc.

 

Sources: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2140803/windows-8-1-update-is-required-for-future-windows-8-1-patches.html
http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9247520/Microsoft_requires_migration_to_Windows_8.1_Update_within_5_weeks

Attention Apple Users: Update now to avoid security risks!

by HCCS, Inc. Due to the announcement earlier this week of security risks associated with Apple Devices, we urge any Apple users to perform software updates on their devices immediately, to avoid being victimized by the breach in Apple’s software.   According to sources at many news outlets, including the New York Times, Apple identified a problem in its mobile and desktop operating systems that could allow for hackers to access what you thought to be secure transactions and sessions on your device.  The problem has to do with a coding error in their web connectivity software that validates the security certificates being sent back and forth when you’re establishing a secure connection.  Because of this issue, the browser on your device cannot verify the authenticity of an encryption certificate. What that means is, any hacker could pretend to be your Amazon shopping cart, your bank account or your personal e-mail and cause serious harm, not to mention the increased risk of identity theft. We urge all Apple customers to update their software as soon as possible! Most Apple users can download the update through their general settings on their device.  Keep an eye out for additional security tips from our experts!

Lacey Rickert, Marketing Director

Source: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/24/apples-serious-security-issue-update-your-iphone-or-ipad-immediately/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

Microsoft Ends support for Windows XP & Office 2003 in April, publishes free 8.1 tutorial videos

For some Windows users, April 8, 2014, is an important deadline.  It’s the date Microsoft announced they will end support for Windows XP SP3 and Office 2003 products.  Per the Support Lifecycle policy introduced by the company in 2002, Microsoft products have a minimum of 10 years of support, making it time to transition these older versions out of support.  On their website, Microsoft asserts that end of support means customers should take action stating, “After April 8, 2014, there will be no new security updates, non-security hotfixes, free or paid assisted support options or online technical content updates.”   The company goes on to list the risks associated with running out-of-date software on your machines, including security & compliance risks, lack of Independent Software Vendor & Hardware Manufacturers support, and more.  Basically, the concern for Windows XP & Office 2003 users who have not taken measures to update their programs is their exposure and vulnerability to security risks.

If you have one of the software versions set to end support in 2014, Microsoft suggests immediate migration to Windows 7 or higher, to continue to receive security updates and program support from Microsoft and its certified partners.  Because Windows 8 received such mixed reviews from users who are already comfortable with earlier versions of the software, many users are hesitant to upgrade to the new operating system.  Some users are intimidated by the idea of upgrading to Windows 8.1 because of the inconvenience of learning to navigate through the new touchscreen inspired format.  The good news is Microsoft has produced helpful training materials for users who are new to Windows 8.1.  These tutorials are short videos covering the basic navigation and function of the new interface of Windows 8.1 operating system.  You can access these free videos online by following this link:

8.1 tutorial videos: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/enterprise/resources-and-tools/default.aspx

April 8, 2014

If you are struggling to transition your PC’s from Windows XP or Office 2003, look for a Microsoft Certified Partner in your area to handle the software migration.  Enlisting a computer technician for technology changes will ensure that your upgrade is successful.  In most cases, the technician is also available to assist you in basic training on your software.

Lacey Rickert

Marketing Director, HCCS, Inc.

Our company, HCCS, Inc., is a Microsoft Certified Partner based in Overland Park, Kansas.  We specialize in helping our clients become more confident and successful using their technology.  Contact us today for troubleshooting, advice, assistance, or more information on how we can help with your Microsoft software upgrades and Windows support.