Category: Security

Best Windows Anti Virus

My Windows clients are divided.  Some of them use a paid, 3rd party anti-virus.  The others use Windows Defender which is the built in solution provided for free with Windows 10.

It’s my aim today to end the division.  I think for most of my clients, typically age 55+ consumers, small biz, and small non-profit users, the Windows’ own Defender is more than adequate.  There I said it.  I think that a lot of you do not need to pay to renew your anti virus whether it be ESET, Avira, etc. the next time it expires.  The best security strategy is good defensive computing.  Your anti virus solution is just a tool, not the tool in your overall security plan.

However, I will offer a caveat.  Paid solutions like ESET are a good choice if you like having the comfort of a US based phone number to call when you have security concerns.  They have been very respectful to my customers over the years.  The only other anti virus that I think may be worth paying for is PC Matic.  Some of you may have seen their TV commercials.  Unlike nearly every other solution on the planet, PC Matic is an American company.  That may mean something to some users.  This company also uses a unique approach to block harmful websites. They also offer prompt support.

For most Windows users, the built in Windows Defender will be just fine.  Only pay for anti virus if that provider offers something you really want.

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Backing Up Data on a Windows PC

Part I — The Hardware

Most of you have data (pictures, documents, songs, and videos) that are important to you.  You want this stuff backed up.  In addition to any possible online backup / sync services you might be using, the foundation of your backup scheme should be a local, USB connected external hard drive.  These drives are cheap and compact in size.  You should have at least one and possibly more than external hard drive to back up to.

You can’t go wrong with the Western Digital My Passport drives.  Here is an Amazon link for easy ordering. http://amzn.to/2DgHXyE  A 1 TB drive will cover basic needs.  Get a 2 TB or larger if you have a lot of data to back up.  These backup drives should be replaced every 2 to 3 years.   If its been that long, order yourself one or more. 

Part II — The Software

Windows does not have great backup software built into the operating system. Mac users have a built in app called Time Machine from Apple.  However, there are some great utilities for Windows that are available at no cost should you want a 0 dollar option.

First, you have to decide if you want to do a CLONE BACKUP or SYNC BACKUP.  You may want to do both.  Let me explain.  A clone is an exact copy of your hard drive.  A clone can be restored from if your computer crashes or dies.  Your computer can be fully restored to its last backed up state from a clone backup.   It is possible to restore just a folder or a file from a clone backup, but it takes a couple of steps.   The main purpose of a clone backup is to restore the entire computer.   My baseline for clone backup software is Macrium Reflect.  Despite the “Mac” in the name, they are a Windows product.  This is the backup software I have installed on many of your computers right now.  The free version works nicely for many.  Some of my clients have opted for the added benefits of the paid version.  https://www.macrium.com/reflectfree

A SYNC BACKUP is going to compare files and folders between your computer’s internal hard drive and external hard drive and make sure they are identical.   For example, if you have a folder called Documents on your computer with 300 documents and sync it to the external drive drive you will also get a folder called Documents with 300 documents.  Future synchronizations will only update the changes that you’ve made.   Sync backups are very accessible to you.  You can simply go into your external drive in File Explorer at any time to drag files out or work with them on the drive.  You can easily restore individual files and folders from a sync backup. It is a drag and drop process.  A sync backup is not meant to be used to restore your entire computer.  You could also take your external drive with the sync backup and easily use it on another computer.   My favorite utility for sync backups (Mac and Windows versions available) is called Free File Sync.  https://www.freefilesync.org/

Conclusion

Whether you use one or more backup drives, do a clone backup, sync backup, or both — please back up to an external drive.  Buy new drives regularly.  Get professional help should you need it.

Technology Update 12/12/17

As the year draws to a close, I start thinking about best and worst experiences with technology.

Laptop Mag is a website that puts out in depth reviews of laptops all year.  Just this week, they published an article on the best laptop keyboards of 2017.  Some of you need to type a lot of documents or emails on your laptop.  You may not use your laptop so much for media consumption, but see it as a productivity device.  For you the keyboard is going to be very important.   Laptop Mag did not try all of the laptops on the market, but they have seen enough of them to make some serious recommendations at various price points should the keyboard be a deciding factor.  It’s no surprise that Lenovo’s Thinkpad T series comes in at #1.  The Thinkpad line is put out by IBM’s former business computer division which is based in North Carolina.  Their keyboards are a typist’s dream.    A $299 Chromebook also makes the list.   While Dell’s business class Latitude 5000 and 7000 series laptops are not included, I would definitely move them to the front row of the class.   Interestingly enough, Apple’s 2017 Mac Book Pros are not on here.  Apple did make minor improvements to the keyboards this year compared to their pitiful 2016 cousins, but they cannot compare to the typing experience of the 2009 – 2015 Mac Book Pros or even the Mac Book Air — which is still being sold.  Check out the article for yourself for the complete survey. https://www.laptopmag.com/articles/best-laptop-keyboards

It is going to be a “worst experience” for you if your computer crashes and you don’t have a proper backup of your data.  In addition to online backup and sync services that you may use, an external hard drive is an essential component of your backup scheme.  How usable is your data if your backup drive is no good?   Therefore, if your drive is more than 3 years old, you need to buy a new one.  While there are other brands I can recommend, you really can’t go wrong with a WD My Passport.  They are easy to buy and priced right.   A 1 or 2 TB model should serve most of your needs.  Here are the Amazon links for easy purchasing. 

Windows formatted:  http://amzn.to/2z5BCGb

Mac formatted:   http://amzn.to/2yk9Xh6

Storm alert–unplugging things and power cycling

With some bad thunder and lightning sweeping the northeast tonight, I just want to make sure that you are taking proper precautions.   I have no problem if you just want to unplug your expensive electronic devices for a while.   However, if you are going to leave them plugged in, please use good surge protector.   These surge protectors are rated in joules.  That measures the force they can withstand in the event of a surge. 

I really like the Tripp Lite surge protectors.  You can see this 8 outlet model on my Amazon Store.  4 and 6 outlet models are available. 

http://astore.amazon.com/vicoca0a-20/detail/B0000511U7

This is also a good one made by APC.

http://astore.amazon.com/vicoca0a-20/detail/B0012YLTR6

Both of those are rated for over 3000 joules. 

Your internet may go off intermittently on nights like tonight or you just may want to take it offline.  When plugging your internet and router back in,

1)  plug the power to your modem back in first and wait about 5 minutes

2)  then plug the router back in and wait about 5 minutes

If your devices cannot use the internet after that, your internet is still likely down.

Keep in mind that devices get zapped all of the time.   You may want to talk to your electrician about “whole house surge protection.”  I have been told that this is a solution in the hundreds, not thousands, and it really works. 

Automatic Operating System Updates

Even though the Wanna Cry attack that crippled computers worldwide at the end of last week was targeted toward insecure Windows systems, the advice I will present here is intended for all.

All of my Mac and Windows clients should have their systems set to automatically prompt to install and in most cases, install, operating system updates.  These minor updates are the security and stability fixes that help prevent major attacks.   I know that my Windows clients are getting the updates pushed directly to their computers.   Macs will always prompt, but I know there is an option in System Preferences as to whether or not you actually want the Mac to go ahead and install the updates.  That option should be on.  (Please ask me how to check if you cannot figure it out by going to Apple Menu >> System Preferences >> App Store.  All options should be checked in that section.)

The only way that one of my clients would not be getting these critical operating system updates for Windows or Mac is if they regularly shut down their computers after use.   Shutting down was an acceptable practice in 2003.  It’s not an acceptable practice today.  The security of your system and the data contained on it is too important.

On all modern computers, your security updates will be installed if you simply let the computer go to sleep. Sleep mode cuts off about 95% of the power to your system. If it’s a laptop, it should be connected to power when you let it sleep for the night.  The critical updates will get pushed out without much interruption to your life.   If you are going away for several days or several weeks and do not plan to use the computer, you may want to shut it down.  Even then, I am not saying it is a must.  

Your modern Windows or Mac system runs serviceable software that may need an update at any given time.  Put yourself in a secure position by allowing this process to happen.  That is a proactive line of defense that doesn’t require a whole lot of effort on your part. 

Macs get malware too

I recently had a lengthy appointment with a client who was infected with a Mac virus.  He had heard, as I believed for a long time, that Macs can’t get viruses (commonly referred to today by the term “malware”).   The use of the Mac platform has grown since I first jumped aboard the train in 2004.  Mac Books are often the computer of choice for college students.   Consumers seeking the optimal mix of design, quality, performance and security are going Mac.  Windows still dominates the business world and Chromebooks are the clubhouse leader in K-12 institutional settings.  Considering all of this, the Mac business is strong.  This means Macs are becoming more vulnerable to attack.
My client got hit by a pop up telling him to update is Flash Player.  As I have explained in the past, Flash is a common player of multimedia content on Windows systems and Macs.  It is being phased out for “players” that don’t require additional software to be installed, but for right now you may want to have Flash installed.  If you use the Google Chrome browser, you do not need a separate installation of it. However, if you use Safari or Firefox and play Flash content, then you will need to deliberately install Flash on your Mac.    The only official place to get Flash is https://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/ ; accept no substitutes! Once Flash is installed you should never get pop ups telling you that it needs to be updated because Flash for Mac has auto-updated itself for the past couple years.   If you are a Firefox or Safari user and a Flash user, you can always reinstall Flash from the official site if you are concerned that you do not have the latest version or if Flash isn’t working.   Being up to date with Flash is crucial because bad actors on the internet have taken advantage of out of date software.

The pop up my client received was not from Adobe.  It was from a foreign hacker that wanted to take over his system.  And did they ever.  Post infection, the Mac question had a new application called “Advanced Mac Cleaner” installed.  It appeared to be constantly scanning the system and provided phone numbers to call for Apple support.  This phone number was not routing calls to Apple.   The purpose of these support numbers is to steal money and or banking information from vulnerable computer users.

In this age of increased risk on the Mac platform, it is important to have software that offers real time protection and malware mitigation.  Some of my Mac clients use the free Avast for Mac.  I think its a good solution if clients are really averse to paying for software. However, I highly recommend Intego Mac Security.   Intego charges about $50 per year for their software.  They are a French company with US based phone support should a customer need to contact them with concerns.  Intego is a Mac focused security firm.   The latest version of Intego Mac Security found all traces of infection on my client’s Mac and scrubbed it clean allowing us to continue with other tasks to make it more secure.

Many of you have Intego installed already.  Make sure that your subscription is up to date and you are renewing it each year.

 

Macs Only: The Heartbleed Hacking Crisis

Major websites that we all use are being hacked left and right — because this is a web issue and not a computer issue its possible that Mac users can be affected, just like Windows users.

Rather than doing a bunch of research for you — I want to give you information from a trusted source Mac World — and let you decide what you want to do — what passwords you want to change.
http://www.macworld.com/article/2142040/what-the-heartbleed-bug-really-means-to-mac-and-ios-users.html#jump

As a general rule of thumb – I recommend changing passwords for key websites that you use at least every 6 months.
I recommend using a secure password manager like
1Password or Last Pass — which will manage all your logins but also create randomized passwowrds. I must have over 200 websites saved (user name and password). Honestly, for most of them, I do not know the password and I love it. Randomized passwords are much saver than unsafe passwords you usually come up with on your own.

Also ….
if you use….. Yahoo Mail, Gmail, Outlook.com mail — you’ll want to have two factor (also called two step) authentication turned on.

This means about every 30 days — you will be texted a code to your cell phone to verify your account. This code is then typed into your computer. Furthermore, if some hacker tried to get into your account, you would get a code by text. They don’t have your phone — so they wont get in. Your phone is the second factor. It’s the second key to unlock the safe.

I may ruffle some feathers here — but if you use Apple’s iCloud email– they don’t have true 2-factor authentication. They implemented a half- *ssed (missing letter is “a” by the way — i don’t know any other way to say it) two factor authentication in 2013. It is NOT the same as google, yahoo and microsoft offer. It does not protect iCloud email.

I’m going to give you the websites for the two password managers I recommend – you only need one. Read about them. If you want to implement one of these solutions, we can make an appointment.
http://www.1password.com
http://www.lastpass.com