31 August 2017
The problem with home technology is that it is increasingly complex and someone who does not work in the industry just can not keep up. The average home of three residents may have a dozen Internet aware devices from PC to laptop to tablet to Fitbit and all the other Internet of Things devices.
All of these connect to the Internet by way of a router and that is the first, most likely, security failure in a home netwok.
- Buying a cheap router is the first problem that homeowners run into. This is the single most vital piece of networking equipment for a home and is an incredibly complex piece of electronics. Spending the money for a good system is worth it. In addition to higher performance and better reliability, the more expensive routers offer a much higher level of security.
- Router set up. Three elements are critical and the most basic.
- First and foremost is to update the firmware. Since the average homeowner does not know that firmware exists this step is usually skipped. The vendor nearly always provides increased security and performance updates after manufacturing. These are released through software (aka firmware) upgrades to the operating system of the hardware. Since they have to downloaded and installed in steps specific to that model of router it is a sufficiently geeky process that most non-technical people will just give up.
- Change the default password to access the router. This is so critical and so frequently neglected that it is included as a HIPAA requirement for medical businesses and is nearly always forgotten by non-technical users who just want to get online. The default password for any given router can easily be found on the Internet.
- Solid wireless password. Easy to remember, easy to enter into phone and Fitbit but sufficiently complex to be difficult to guess. Password123 is not a good choice. There was a case in Florida where someone on a boat was trading child pornography on his computer using the unsecured wireless signal of a local apartment. The police initially arrested the apartment owner before figuring out the actual origin of the porn.
- Pay the money to have a professional set up your system. If this is done correctly it is a one-time cost. Having someone who understands how routers interact with your network is well worth the expense and having them document the settings and security is invaluable.
After securing the network, the next most frequent problem we see is a combination of poor password control and the habit of clicking on unknown (and sometimes even known) email links.
The time has long passed where simple reused passwords are viable on the Internet. Anything other than a complex password like Et35FL!#Hk is too easily hacked. If the password is used more than once then multiple accounts will be compromised with a single hack. We still see this and have recommended on numerous occasions password managers like Roboform, Lastpass, Fastlane, or the like.
Next on the list is just exercising common sense. Links like “Your UPS package has been delayed, click here for information” are just invitations to disaster. This is entirely a social engineering problem that has been around since before the days of the traveling medicine show. No amount of secure technology can defeat a user determined to circumvent it.
And finally what we are seeing more of in recent history is our customers connecting to web sites that have not maintained their security. Accessing the site results in a pop up page that locks the computer and says something like “We noted a problem with your PC. As a Microsoft Certified information technology company we monitor PC’s and offer repairs when we see they are in trouble. We believe your PC has a virus but do not worry, we can help! Give us a call at………………..”. Of course the customer calls, gives up their credit card to fix a non-existent problem and down the rabbit hole they go. The best metaphor I can come up with is that of driving into a shopping center parking lot and having some random stranger say they hear a problem with your car and if you give them some money they will fix it right now. Once under the hood things rapidly become worse but are still fixable for a price. While not too many people would fall for the car scenario they will give a stranger money and access to their PC without question.
All of the above can be avoided by having a relationship with a local computer company. We help residential customers in such situations every day. The smartest ones realize that a small investment up front will prevent a huge cost and a lot of heartache on the back end.
Give us a call at 512-931-4134 and we’ll tell you how to keep your family technology out of trouble.
05 July 2017
Right off the bat I’ll tell you this is not my specialty. But I’m in great company. There is hardly anyone who is an Internet of Things specialist. The devices and platforms controlling them (and I’m not even getting into drones.. yet) are popping up faster than anyone can keep up.
PCs really started in the late 70’s. It took nearly 30 years for them to take over the world. The iPhone is only 10 years old and is now old school. What can be termed as IoT is maybe three and it is already sufficiently pervasive that you and nearly everyone you know has several devices.
What we do know is that there is an inherent danger in integrating IoT devices, especially in businesses, that are built and provisioned for the price that most of us would like.
We recently purchased an external camera. Once I decided which one I wanted I looked for the best price. Of course. But, and this is a huge but, the cheapest version of that model was a Chinese version. Not just made in China but actually the Chinese model. Which means that the needed firmware upgrade, the internal software that maintains the highest security level for this device, did not work in the U.S. I was really surprised by that. The warranty was also not worth anything. But the camera looked identical to the one I finally bought with only one letter designation different in the model. Very hard to distinguish.
I ended up buying it from one of our primary distributors who back the warranty and certify that the camera is the one that I want. It cost me maybe 10% more. Well worth it.
Lesson learned? Know your vendor for IoT devices. If it connects to the Internet either take the time to be sure you know what you are getting and who is supplying it or pay someone else to do that job. If you are a business, find someone who will back the product and set it up right ensuring that access is the minimum required and that all security updates are made and set up to run automatically.
25 January 2017
- PURPOSE OF JOB
The Level One technician will primarily be working independently with residential and home office customers. In addition, the Level One tech will work in a team setting on projects with small businesses and support the Service Manager with shop work. This is first and foremost a customer service job. The ability to interact with a variety of personalities is critical to be successful.
- JOB DUTIES
There are three areas of responsibility for the Level One Technician.
1 – On Site Support of customers
2 – In Shop Repairs
3 – Assist with remotely supporting customers. Friendly Residential Service is contract services, with remote residential customers, monitoring and remediation systems.
1 – On site
The Level One Technician working onsite is the front line for technical services to the customer. The technician communicates clearly the methods of operation that are required as well as successfully implements them. In most cases, the ideal scenario involves providing the solution onsite without removing the equipment from the customer premises; however, in some cases the equipment may be brought to our facility in order to execute repairs.
Specific technical duties defined per incident include:
- Analysis and Investigation of problems
- Repair, substitution or replacement of faulty hardware
- Repair, installation, reinstallation or reprogram of software
- Testing and error checking of solutions
- Backup of data in order to restore functionality
- Provide recommendations as necessary for the general health of the equipment
- Provide technical documentation and/or materials upon request
- Follow-up with Customer after the solution has been implemented
Specific Non-technical duties include:
- Maintaining correct records in job tracking software for every customer interaction
- Confirmation and Follow-up calls to clients as necessary
2 – In shop
Ensure that all customer equipment brought back to the shop is correctly inventoried and documented. Report to the Service Manager the status and customer expectations of the job and schedule the return of the equipment. When not working on site or on specific jobs assist the Service Manager with jobs in the shop.
3 – Remote systems
As directed by the Service Manager monitor applicable remote monitoring systems to ensure that contract customers are secure and operating efficiently.
- DESIRED CHARACTERISTICS
We are looking for someone who fits with our current team of three and who can successfully interact with our customer base which is primarily, on the residential side, significantly older. Much of the work consists of answering their questions and assisting them with what they want to do.
The ability and desire to solve IT related puzzles through independent research online (Google, Reddit, etc) and team interaction. It is far less important to know the answers than to be willing and able to find the answers. To demonstrate they have read this far, any qualified candidate who adds the word Orange to the first paragraph of their resume will find themselves in the head of the line of applicants.
- REQUIRED AND DESIRED SKILLS
Basic and Intermediate knowledge of Windows PCs and troubleshooting. Demonstration of this through A+ or Microsoft certification is desired but not required. Certification as A+ or MSP in the first 90 days is a job requirement. Certification prior to being hired will increase the pay scale.
Knowledge of IOS systems. We are currently a Windows only shop. Someone who can successfully troubleshoot Apple systems in addition to their PC skills would expand our customer base and increase their pay scale.
Job Type: Full-time
- Georgetown, TX
- High school or equivalent
- Computer Repair: 1 year
17 November 2016
I’m including some information this year with your AVG CloudCare invoice so that you might better understand the value of the product. If you are getting this invoice, your PC is protected by AVG CloudCare in partnership with Friendly Connections IT. We actually manage the system, AVG provides the platform and the antivirus.
You may have AVG on your computer without having paid for it so far. We put it on every computer we sell and every computer we back up and reload. We typically do this for the balance of the year without charge so this may be your first notice of payment. The $39.95 plus tax per computer is for the entire year 2017.
As you can see here AVG CloudCare is business class antivirus. No frills, no marketing, nothing but solid malware protection.
We have been using AVG now for 11 years and our results speaks volumes. In all of that time with thousands upon thousands of customers we have seen almost no malware on PC’s running AVG. Since moving to CloudCare it has only gotten better. With AVG CloudCare we have the best of AVG without any of the noise that sometimes appears in the consumer version. It is easy to install and requires no re installation.
YOUR PART IN THIS:
Send us a check or call with a credit card or Stop by and say hello and we’ll take care of the payment on the spot.
But we need your payment sometime in December. On the 1st of January this stellar protection will expire.
Give us a call 512-931-4134 with questions, answers or payment. I’m good with any of the three.
Owner, Friendly Connections IT
10 August 2016
As with most people using PC’s I have a love/hate thing going with Microsoft. It is our lifeblood and really on the 25th anniversary of the world wide web it is astounding where things have gone. What started out as green characters on a black screen now nearly breathes life in three dimensions. And so much of that is due to Bill Gate’s vision of a PC on every desk. So I revere Microsoft’s accomplishments (All you Apple people sit back down. This is a blog article about Microsoft. You’ll get your turn).
But again today is an article brought to me by ESET via Grahm Cluey with today’s monthly security updates closing critical loopholes not only in Internet Explorer but in the Windows 10 Edge browser. Edge browser is only a little over a year old and it seems to have the same problems as it’s elder cousin Internet Explorer. For some reason Microsoft can’t get the security right.
I long ago gave up on IE in favor of Chrome as my standard browser. My logic at the time was and continues to be a combination of a clean appearance, quick response, and superior security. My second standard is to enable as default the Google search engine. In the decidedly unscientific survey that is our shop over eleven years and thousands of corrupt and infected PCs I’ve come to the conclusion that these are the two best options. Add to that the usual security practices that should be in place no matter what browser is in use.
The biggest complaint people have about Chrome is one of privacy. Google collects my information. They grind it through massive data algorithms and occasionally I’ll get an ad or something that is relevant to me. Or I would if I didn’t have uBlock on my browser. If you don’t want information collected on you then turn off your computer, turn off your smart phone, your tablet, and your smart car and live an analog life. I’ve used the best email system in existence, the best search engine in existence and the best browser in my opinion since they were each available. For nothing. Free. In exchange I’m happy with Google collecting my search information and who knows what else. Anyone else that wants it let me know and I’ll send it on. Maybe you can figure out how to make a few billion bucks on it too.
So, be safe, be smart and, until Microsoft gets their browsing act together, stay off IE and Edge.
4 August 2016
Last week I kicked up some dust talking about Office 365, ransomware and how to protect yourself. You can find that post here. The post makes Office 365 sound like it is vulnerable and maybe not the way to go. Nothing could be further from the truth and an experience today with one of our customers bears that out.
For businesses too small to have their own email server the choices are fairly limited or were before Microsoft finally got their tech together.
The first choice is to use personal email exemplified by Yahoo.com, Gmail.com, and (shudder) AOL.com. I’ve seen a lot of businesses who appear to be professional until I look at the email address on their card and it is a Yahoo email. The email address undercuts what they are spending time and resources trying to accomplish.
The next step up is better from an image viewpoint but has its own hazards. The business gets their own domain (such as FCOFG.COM) and works with GoDaddy or some similar company to host their email. The upside of this is that they can now have a professional looking email account (email@example.com, for instance). However the hosting entity is frequently not as professional as they could be. The available storage can be pretty limited and the security is sometimes questionable. Spam is nearly always a huge problem. And unless everything is correctly set up the risk of data loss can be high.
The next choice is Google Apps. As a company we went down that road before Office 365 came of age and it worked fairly well. It integrates with Outlook, has an exceptionally high level of uptime, and is very secure. The Gmail portion has excellent spam filtering which, since the level of spam in the email world is still around 56% according to Statistica, is fairly important. But with Google Apps you get a less than fully functional version of Word and Excel. For use within the company this is fine and Google drive is outstanding for internal collaboration. Absolutely the best. But once you attempt to exchange those spreadsheets with someone who has the full version of Excel there can be some problems.
After a few years with Google Apps we migrated our domain to Office 365 and haven’t looked back. I know this is a shocker so hang on. Microsoft is not perfect. There, I’ve said it. But Office 365 is damn good. It is software as a service. Pay by the month for whatever service your company needs. Just want email? $5/month. Want the whole Office suite plus email? $12.50/month (there are other variables for different costs). Updates are automatic and for the most part flow well. The spam filtering rivals Gmail. And for $30 per year per email account through a separate vendor your business email can be permanently backed up.
I’ve got Outlook and all of the Office apps on my PC, my laptop and my Android phone. They work perfectly on all. The integrated and included One Drive is coming along. Microsoft really did a poor job putting together its version of synchronized storage (comparable to Dropbox or Box or Google Drive, etc) but they are finally working out the kinks and of course it is integrated with all of their other apps so it is easy to use.
We sell and manage Office 365 for our customers. The margin is small so this is less of a sales pitch than a pitch for company professionalism. Even the smallest company can afford the same email platform used by enterprise corporations. Being professional, secure and efficient has never been easier and more available.
July 25th, 2016
Today I sent the following email to our Office 365 partners:
In the past month or so Microsoft Office 365 has demonstrated a vulnerability that you should be aware of. The long version is here but the short version is that ransomware could wipe out your email. Once there has been a successful attack on a system it is only a matter of time before someone tries again. There is a lot of money in ransomware. Just imagine that all of your email, the entire history that you have been saving in Outlook, is gone, replaced with a note that for $500 you could get it back. Or $1000 or more.
I’m not writing this to scare you. I’m sending you a note to ensure you are aware of the problem and that there is a solution.
As soon as I fully grasped the breadth of the problem I searched out a solution. Fortunately we have been working with a vendor that easily protects Office 365 data and we already put this solution into effect at Friendly Connections IT. The solution is to back up your email directly from the Office 365 Exchange servers.
Your email is stored on Microsoft servers (the type of server is called Exchange). The vendor we work with connects directly to the email account on the Microsoft server (rather than your PC) and backs up everything. There is no size limit to the backup (since I seldom delete anything I’m currently backing up over 11GB of data) and it keeps the backup as long as you make the monthly payment. In addition to protecting your company from complete data loss, if you accidently delete an email it can be restored. And restoring the data takes only minutes.
Please note: This is separate from data backups. We provide FC Backup service which backs up files for our customers but with Office 365 this can only be done through a cloud to cloud service such as I’m talking about here. Of course, the advantage of that is your computer does not have to be online to back your email. It is all done behind the scenes.
The cost is $3 per month per email address discounted to $30/year if paid in advance.
With this same service we can also back up your Yahoo mail, Google Apps, Sharepoint, Onedrive and Box accounts.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
June 17, 2016
For the next couple of weeks, through end of June, you can buy a Microsoft Surface computer through Friendly Connections IT for LESS than you can get it on Amazon. Here’s the deal:
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 9PY-00001 Intel Core i5 6300U 2.4 GHz 4 GB Memory 128 GB SSD Intel HD Graphics 520 12.3” 2736 x 1824 5 MP Front \ 8 MP Rear Camera Touchscreen Tablet Windows 10 Home
On the Surface that seems like a good deal (sorry, couldn’t resist) but it is even better. It comes with a solid relationship with the best IT company in the area. We support what we sell. Amazon, and all the other on line sites, as good as they are do not do much when you’ve got a problem. You can’t drive up to their store, go in side and ask “Hey, what is this icon on my desktop for?” Friendly Connections IT has a store, a driveway and someone to answer all those small questions.
Want to step it up a bit… larger hard drive, more memory?
Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (512 GB, 16 GB RAM, Intel Core i5) is available.
Take a look at them online and give us a call. But don’t wait. This expires with the month of June.
May 30, 2016
I originally wrote this over three years ago but it requires little updating and still holds true.
Why don’t we get viruses?
We frequently get asked here in the shop about malware. One thought I nearly have is why we don’t get malware on our PCs at Friendly Connections IT. So, here goes.
Let’s start with some honesty here. We actually did have a virus on one of our computers. It has been a number of years since this happened and the culprit will remain nameless. And we occasionally pick up some low level malware what we call ‘pup’ or Potentially Undesirable Programs. More about that later. But after over 11 years of being in business that is it. And considering that our entire team is nearly always online searching for parts or drivers, researching malware problems or new technology one might expect problems. I spend some time on social sites as any successful business does these days and our email address is available online all over the internet. Meanwhile in that timeframe we have conservatively taken in over 5000 computers with malware and fixed them.
So, what gives? Here’s the list of what I think makes the difference in our shop:
1 – We use AVG CloudCare on every computer. The CloudCare version is mostly for businesses but it allows us to keep watch for problems on our customer and our own PC’s through an online console. Both the CloudCare version and the standalone version do as good a job as any system I’ve found and neither interferes with the programs we run. I’ve actually never seen AVG interfere with anything which is a major criteria in my selection of an antivirus system. One thing to keep in mind: No antivirus will defeat a user that is so determined to download something that they ignore the warnings. Read the fine print on EVERYTHING.
2 – We update all of the PC’s all of the time. No exception. Our server goes through a separate system of updating as should all servers. But the PC’s, all of the recommended, automatic updates all the time. They are usually security oriented so there is never an exception to this (despite what many techs say, I’ve adhered to this for years).
3 – We don’t always browse but when we do we use the Chrome browser. This would start a war on the tech sites but I’m convinced that Chrome is the most secure browser. I’ve been using it since its inception and am used to it. Next choice would be Firefox but I never really liked the way it operates. Personal preference. A lot of this is personal preference but, hey, it has worked so far. The Chrome browser can be downloaded at www.Chrome.com.
3a – I have Java disabled on my Chrome browser. If I go to a site that requires Java (and the sites will say that) I shift to Internet Explorer. Otherwise I don’t want Java enabled since it continues to have a lot of security problems.
4 – We have an excellent firewall on our network. This is a business class firewall. What that means is that I’ve got an appliance that sits between me and the Internet. Its primary job is to make sure that no one can get into my network who is not supposed to be here. Connecting to the internet is like connecting to a faucet and turning it on. Everything comes through and there are people out there who write programs that constantly look for unprotected connections. Having a good residential router performs a lower level of what we have and is generally enough protection. But a business like ours is more of a target and we have a better system. I am of the opinion that EVERY business should have a good firewall. They are not cheap but pay for themselves many times over with a single prevented incident of hacking. The firewall itself contains antivirus so it offers a second layer of protection in addition to preventing hackers who might want to do us harm.
5 – We fully understand the computer mantra “Nothing is free”. If I download a ‘free’ program I’m expecting either that it:
a – is a lower level trial version (such as AVG Free) or
b – it has some kind of accompanying advertisement (such as YouTube) or
c – it is going to try to scare me into buying something I don’t need (such as RegPro and all of the other
programs that will ‘guarantee your computer runs faster!’) or
d – it will download junkware like special search engines that will direct you to where they want you to go
e – it will download viruses (and the examples of these are endless).
I recently needed something that would allow me to slice up and reassemble a video file. I only needed it
once and so, knowing that I was heading for trouble, I downloaded a free one and then spent about fifteen
minutes uninstalling all the junk that came along with it. I was paying attention so it was not much of an
issue but that is not typically what our customers experience. What I downloaded and removed would no
doubt have eventually resulted in cascading my computer into a ball of useless wiring. This happens
frequently to the people who walk through our doors.
6 – We read the fine print. When setting up a program or driver or anything else there is writing above
the button that says “Next”. The installation has paused to give you a chance to read what is
happening. If you don’t really understand what is going to happen when you click on “Next” then I would
recommend not doing so. When was the last time you actually read one of the licenses that you agree to
during installation? The ones from Microsoft are usually pretty interesting and written in language that is
easy to understand.
6a – If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. We apply a very critical eye to anything that
sounds like any kind of offer. This cuts out most of the helpful applications. We don’t install coupon
trackers, money savers, lottery predictors, and astrology or weather applications. All of those run
constantly in the background chipping away slowly but surely at the performance of the PC and all of them
track your shopping and computing habits reporting back to the mother ship just as the contract presented
above the ‘Next’ key during installation said they would do.
Final note: There is no way to be sure. A computer can become infected or its operating system can
become corrupt for many reasons. Nothing, absolutely nothing, takes the place of a good backup. But
that’s another column.
Questions? Give us a call and we’ll help.
Bill Schubert owns Friendly Connnections IT (www.fcofg.com). We are located in Georgetown and provide
managed and cloud services to businesses in the Williamson County area since 2005. In other words we’re
‘the computer guys’ for our business customers. We specialize in providing an off-site IT department to
companies with 5 to 100 PCs but also provide support to residential customers at 512-931-4134.
23 February 2016
As frequently happens when I start to write articles on topics I know about I realize I don’t know what I thought I knew. And I’ll admit that I’m a little weak in the world of email. Turns out for good reason. About an hour into my research I’ve figured out that it is way too complex for anyone but the most dedicated of techs. I marginally fit that definition but I’m too old to absorb the whole discussion.
That is fortunate for you. I can translate the deep geek to English. Here’s what you need to know.
EMAIL SPOOFING: “Email spoofing is the creation of email messages with a forged sender address.” Wikipedia.com [There’s a very long complex discussion in Wikipedia with links to about five hours of research. Feel free.]
How it happens. Here’s the bad news. You clicked on something in an email. Maybe it was a “Verify your PayPal account” or “UPS has a package for you, click here for tracking”. Or any of a hundred other ways to get people to click on things. You’ve seen them, you’ve clicked on them. No one is perfect and it only takes once to get in trouble.
What happens next. Your email address is compromised usually by a Trojan virus and enough information is sent to the crooks they can use it to solicit money from your friends (the list of which they also acquire from your email address book). You may have heard of the scams:
“I’m stuck in [insert foreign country here] and have lost my wallet, passport and money. Please send a money order so that I can get home” or something similar.
We see this several times a year and there’s not much we can do for our customers after it has happened.
How can I avoid my email being spoofed, you say?
Well my fist answer is a quote from a Lifehacker.com article on email spoofing. You already know this answer:
As always, the weakest link in security is the end-user. That means that you’ll need to keep your BS sensors turned all the way up every time you get an email you weren’t expecting. Educate yourself. Keep your anti-malware software up to date.
The people doing this are part of a huge organized crime and the majority are from eastern European countries. Many of the tools used in these ventures are available for sale on various markets accessible through back end web sites. There are even ‘help’ desks for criminals who are not so technically capable. All of this is beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement. There is a coalition of groups interested in stopping this sort of activity but on an international scale email spamming and spoofing is not today’s top priority.
My recommendation for personal email is to use Gmail. It has the best security track record year over year. I’ve been using it for my personal email since it was in Beta mode and I’ve only seen the security get better. I very occasionally get what I would consider spam, a message I did not request or want. There’s a button at the top of the Gmail screen that lets me report the message (and the sender) while it removes it to the spam folder. This happens maybe once a month and I get hundreds of emails into that box from technology lists I’m on.
1 – Make sure your antivirus is working. (By the way we use, sell and recommend AVG CloudCare, the business version of AVG, for businesses and residential use)
2 – Pay attention to links all of the time but especially in emails from people you do not know.
3 – Consider using Gmail as the most secure service.
The advice is completely different for businesses. Check our March 2016 newsletter where I address that.
Give us a call if you’ve got any questions or comments about this. 512-931-4134