IRS Warns Taxpayers of Summer Surge in Automated Phone Scam Calls; Requests for Fake Tax Payments Using iTunes Gift Cards

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WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today warned taxpayers to stay vigilant against an increase of IRS impersonation scams in the form of automated calls and new tactics from scammers demanding tax payments on iTunes and other gift cards.

The IRS has seen an increase in “robo-calls” where scammers leave urgent callback requests through the phone telling taxpayers to call back to settle their “tax bill.” These fake calls generally claim to be the last warning before legal action is taken. Once the victim calls back, the scammers may threaten to arrest, deport or revoke the driver’s license of the victim if they don’t agree to pay.

“It used to be that most of these bogus calls would come from a live-person. Scammers are evolving and using more and more automated calls in an effort to reach the largest number of victims possible,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Taxpayers should remain alert for this summer surge of phone scams, and watch for clear warning signs as these scammers change tactics.”

In the latest trend, IRS impersonators are demanding payments on iTunes and other gift cards. The IRS reminds taxpayers that any request to settle a tax bill by putting money on  any form of gift card is a clear indication of a scam.

Some examples of the varied tactics seen this year are:

  • Demanding payment for a “Federal Student Tax”–IR-2016-81
  • Demanding immediate tax payment for taxes owed on an iTunes or other type of gift card
  • Soliciting W-2 information from payroll and human resources professionals–IR-2016-34
  • “Verifying” tax return information over the phone–IR-2016-40
  • Pretending to be from the tax preparation industry–IR-2016-28

Since these bogus calls can take many forms and scammers are constantly changing their strategies, knowing the telltale signs is the best way to avoid becoming a victim.

The IRS Will Never:

  • Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.

If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS and asking for money and you don’t owe taxes, here’s what you should do:

  • Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
  • Contact TIGTA to report the call. Use their “IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting” web page or call 800-366-4484.
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
  • If you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.
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Use Microsoft Azure Key Vault to protect your data backups

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by Brien Posey

The Azure Key Vault can serve as data backup protection through its encryption key storage management. Explore how to set up the vault and administer it in your organization.

Data storage administrators go to great lengths to protect network servers and their contents against various types of security breaches. Similar care must be taken to secure backups so they don’t become a security vulnerability. After all, a backup is essentially a copy of an organization’s data that exists outside of the protective confines of the server where the data normally resides.

One of the simplest ways of protecting backups is through encryption. But without careful planning, backup encryption can cause data loss. That’s where the Microsoft Azure Key Vault comes in.

Backup encryption uses encryption keys. These might be software-level keys or hardware-level keys that live on a backup device such as a tape drive. In any case, an encrypted backup cannot be decrypted without the encryption key. Imagine a situation in which an organization has created a series of encrypted tape-based backups, sent them off-site for safe keeping and then has its data center destroyed by a fire. However, when the organization retrieves its backup tapes so data can be restored, it must have a copy of the encryption key — which typically does not exist on the backup tape — to decrypt the data. If it doesn’t, the organization ends up losing just as much data as it would have if the data had never been backed up.

Storing encryption keys with Microsoft Azure Key Vault

The Azure Key Vault is a cloud-based service specifically designed to store encryption keys and other secrets such as SQL Server connection strings and passwords. It does this by using a Federal Information Processing Standards-validated hardware security module.

HSMs are physical devices that store and protect cryptographic keys. They typically take the form of an expansion card or external device that connects to a network server. Although HSMs aren’t anything new, it is only in recent years that Microsoft has made it possible to use a cloud-based HSM.

It is important to understand that the Microsoft Azure Key Vault not only stores a backup copy of your encryption key, but manages an application’s access to a key. This allows the Azure Key Vault to store keys securely in the cloud and prevent keys and other secrets from being directly exposed.

Setting up an Azure Key Vault

Each Microsoft Azure customer can create a dedicated Key Vault. Because the organization owns the Azure Vault, it has full control over its use. But creating a Key Vault is only the first step. The administrator must make the vault work with the backup application. Unfortunately, there is no standard method for doing this because every application is different.

To get a backup application to use the Microsoft Azure Key Vault, the administrator must register the application in the Microsoft Azure Active Directory and then use the Set-AzureRmKeyVaultAccessPolicy cmdlet toauthorize the application to use the Key Vault.

In most cases, other IT staff members — such as backup operators — will need to be authorized to use the Azure Vault. For instance, the storage administrator may need to grant members of the IT staff the ability to add keys to the vault. The Set-AzureRmKeyVaultAccessPolicy cmdlet can be used for this task.

Once the access policy has been configured, the backup application must be set to use the Azure Key Vault. You will need to use the Add-AzureKeyVaultKey cmdlet to add your key to the vault. If the backup application uses some other type of secret, you can use the Set-AzureKeyVaultSecret cmdlet instead. In either case, Azure will provide a uniform resource identifier that corresponds to the key or secret. To use the Key Vault and the key within it, the application must provide users with a way of adding the key’s URI to the application’s configuration.

Microsoft makes it relatively easy to set up an Azure Key Vault and to add keys and secrets to the vault. Although HSMs can be used on-premises, these devices tend to be expensive, and the Microsoft Azure Key Vault may be a cheaper alternative.

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7 tips every Windows 10 user should know

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By EDITOR

The difference between regular users and power users is their proficiency in navigating the OS and utilizing its tips and tricks for an efficient computing experience. It may take anywhere from a few sessions to a few months to really get into the swing of it. Achieve power user status in a jiffy with the help of these seven tips:

Master virtual desktops

Virtual desktops allow for better utilization of screen space. You can span your applications and windows across multiple “virtual” desktops. Create one by clicking on the “Task View” icon (located at the right of the Cortana bar) on the taskbar, then click “+ New Desktop” in the lower right corner and add as many desktops as you wish. To move an application to a new desktop, merely drag it into the virtual desktop on the bottom.

Next-level screenshotting

The original screenshotting methods on Windows include Windows + Prt Scn, which captures the screen and saves it into the Screenshots folder; and Alt + Prt Scn, which captures the screen and copies it to your clipboard.

Introducing the new built-in Snipping Tool. On top of capturing a full screen screenshot, other capturing options range from a free-form rectangle to a specific aspect ratio or even an entire window as well. You can also set the capture to delay a screenshot by a set interval — this comes in handy when you want to screenshot a YouTube video minus the playback controls.

Shake and minimize

For users who aren’t aware of this trick, you can grab a window by its bar and literally shake your mouse. This causes all the other windows to automatically minimize.

Professional Windows snapping

Snapping windows to certain parts of the screen is ideal for multitasking. You can now organize and monitor different applications more seamlessly. Make the most of your screen space with the following tips:

Drag a window to the right or left to split it in half.
Drag a window to a corner to reduce it to a fourth of its size.
Drag a window to the top to maximize its size.

Record your screen with the Xbox app

After launching the Xbox app, go to the app you wish to record and press Windows + G. You’ll be prompted with a window that asks: “Do you want to open the Game bar?” Click on the “Yes, this is a game” box and let the recording begin!

Talk to Cortana like a person

Aside from typing your requests, you can also use natural language to ask Cortana to locate your vacation photos, or provide directions to your friend’s house. No date needed, just specific words and she’s all set. Cortana is also synced with your calendar, so if you’re ever unsure when your meetings are, Cortana will gladly double-check.

Automatic Battery Saver mode

When activating battery saver in Windows 10, you can limit your portable devices’ background activity and push notifications to prolong battery life. Battery saver also kicks in automatically once your battery life is lower than 20%. To customize your own power threshold as well as which applications you allow to run in the background, go to Settings > System > Battery saver — voilà!

Make the most of Windows 10 with these tips and upgrade your user status from regular to power. Regardless of what you’re using it for — arranging your meetings or planning your vacation — make each computing experience a memorable one. Want to hear more of the latest Windows 10 news and updates? Contact us today.

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5 Big Data Security Mistakes Your Startup Must Avoid

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Salesforce-Outlook add-on announced

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By EDITOR

According to Salesforce, an average sales rep spends more than 70 percent of their time each week in their email inbox. Despite this fact, email and customer relationship management (CRM) software has remained separate, forcing sales reps to toggle between them. Fortunately, we have some good news for small and medium-sized businesses: Salesforce will finally be integrated into Microsoft Outlook.

Salesforce and Microsoft have been working together for more than two years, and it has definitely been a win-win situation for everyone. In the latest development between these two tech giants, they’ve released a brand new product that promises to make the lives of sales representatives much easier. Lightning for Outlook, a flashy new add-on allows your sales team to access customer relationship management (CRM) software right from their Microsoft Outlook inbox without switching back and forth between the two applications.

The add-on accomplishes new levels of integration with Lightning Components, which allows for dragging and dropping of fields and elements from Salesforce directly into Outlook. For example, sales reps will be able to update a price quote with Salesforce’s SteelBrick — a Quote-to-Cash software — from within Outlook. This has been termed ‘snapping’. Just ‘snap’ the code you want to migrate into the appropriate Outlook account.

One of the most exciting new features, called Lightning Sync, enables users to automatically sync contacts and calendars across Salesforce and Outlook. “When you update a contact in Outlook, it’s reflected in Salesforce and on your mobile device,” said Greg Gsell, Salesforce’s director of Sales Cloud. “All devices and teams are immediately kept up to date.”

Both Lightning for Outlook and Lightning Sync are available now; the former is free for all Salesforce Cloud users, and the latter is free for users of Salesforce Cloud Lightning Enterprise Edition or higher. Lightning Components Framework — a UI framework for developing dynamic web apps, which gets integrated into Outlook, will be released later this year with pricing to be announced at a later date.

However, this doesn’t mean Lightning for Outlook will solve everything. This plugin simply makes it easier for the two programs to work together. Still, there is a maze of security, database and account management issues to navigate through to make this new feature work properly. At Lanlogic, our experts are well-versed in email and CRM systems, so why not give us a call today and work smarter, not harder.

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How to handle poor VoIP call quality

2016July25_VoIP_C

By EDITOR

VoIP telephone systems are going mainstream, largely because of the lower costs when compared to traditional landlines. But a budget-friendly phone system wouldn’t be worth the savings if it didn’t also promise easy set-up, advanced features, and reliability. So is making calls with a “Voice over IP” system truly dependable?

Phones are an absolutely essential aspect of any company’s communications arsenal. And after Alexander Graham Bell made the first coast-to-coast long-distance call in 1915, it was clear that this was technology that had the power to transform business. But as with all emerging technologies, there were some kinks to work out.

Those earliest phones had power and leakage issues surrounding the wet cell batteries; more recently, cell phones have had their failings as well, such as dropped calls and short battery life; and today, VoIP technology has to deal with some minor complications, too.

The keyword, though, is “minor,” and our aim today is to help you identify these relatively slight hangups and help you optimize an already superior telephony solution.

Voice Echo

It’s fun to hear your voice repeating throughout the high-walled canyon you’re hiking, but not so great when you’re having a quick chat on the phone. And while VoIP echo won’t totally disrupt your conversation, there are a few things you can do to reduce it such as adjusting volume and gain settings, upgrading your USB headsets, or even implementing VoIP echo cancellation software.

Static

Many VoIP systems use an ATA, or Analog Telephone Adapter, to convert analog voice signals to digital signals. This sometimes produces static during calls, with the culprits usually being incompatible power supplies or feedback from the phones plugged into the ATA. Easy fixes include unplugging/replugging the ATA and/or the devices connected to it, or switching to IP Phones which require no analog/digital conversions.

Choppy Voice

The main factor in disjointed, start-stop sounding messages in a VoIP environment is packet loss, which occurs if individual data “packets” are lost in transmission. When this occurs, the gateway at the receiving end of the call tries to predict what’s been lost, but when it can’t, the gap in data remains empty. With a simple tweak to your VoIP system’s bandwidth settings, sending and receiving voice data will become smoother and significantly reduce these interruptions.

Post-dial Delay

Commonly referred to as PDD in VoIP parlance, post-dial delay is fairly self-explanatory. It refers to a delay between the time the caller finishes dialing and when they hear ringing, a busy signal, or some other kind of “in-call” information. It can be a nuisance when, instead of the ringing being delayed, it never actually occurs and you suddenly realize that your call has been connected. This is actually an externality from a vital piece of VoIP technology known as SIP. At the moment the only solace we can offer is that its widespread nature means you’re not alone, and a solution should be coming along soon.

By now it’s clear to most SMBs that a VoIP phone system can benefit their business, even with the occasional delayed ring or scratchy call. Because what we’ve learned from previous telephony advances is that inconveniences like this are manageable; and we can help you manage. From VoIP planning to installation to optimization, contact us today for more information.

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Threat alert: self-replicating ransomware

2016June9_Security_B

By EDITOR

The worrisome rise of ransomware doesn’t seem to be slowing as Microsoft recently announced the detection of self-propagating iterations of the malware. With this evolution, it is essential for SMBs to update their understanding of this security threat in order to properly protect themselves. Keep reading to learn how ransomware is continuing to extend its reach.

Ransomware, the malware that locks up infected systems and demands payment to return access to users, has been steadily increasing its infection rate over the course of this year. Enigma Software reported that, “After staying steady for the last six months of 2015, ransomware detection has begun to climb; February saw a 19 percent increase over January, while March had almost a 10 percent increase over February. Then, in April, infections more than doubled.”

And as if that wasn’t frightening enough, Microsoft announced last week that a recently detected ransomware software was found copying itself onto USB and network drives. The ransomware, titled ZCryptor, disguises itself as either an Adobe Flash installer or a Microsoft Office file to trick users into opening it.

Once opened, it displays a prompt that says “There is no disk in the drive. Please insert a disk into drive D:”. If you see this after opening a suspicious file, it is most likely ZCryptor trying to distract you while it works in the background to add a registry key that buries itself deep in your system and begins to encrypt your files.

Although previous ransomware iterations like Alpha Ransomware had the ability to find and encrypt files on shared network drives, security experts believe this is the first time a ransomware variant has included self-replication via removable drives into its framework.

When it was first detected in May, Microsoft found ZCryptor singling out 88 different file types for encryption. However, later on a security expert analyzed the ransomware and found 121 targeted file types — inferring that creators of the malware were continuing to develop its source code.

It’s commonplace for ransomware to demand payment to be made in Bitcoins as they’re an almost totally untraceable online currency. ZCryptor is no different, demanding 1.2 Bitcoins (500 USD) unless payment is more than four days after infection — then it increases to five Bitcoins (2,700 USD).

Compared to other more complex security threats, ransomware is still relatively easy to avoid. Always verify the source of email attachments and website downloads before opening files, disable macros in Microsoft Office programs, maintain regular backups and update your security software.

Still concerned about security at your SMB? It doesn’t have to be as difficult and draining as you may think. Contact us today for advice on keeping your network protected around the clock.

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Are Power Outages Bad for Your Computer?

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by Naomi Bolton, Demand Media

A power outage can do devastating damage to your computer if it is not protected properly. The reason for the damage is usually not the fact that the computer does not receive any power during an outage, but rather the suddenness of the power outage and the potential power surges associated with it. A scheduled power outage for line maintenance, for instance, does not pose any risk to your computer if you shut it down before the outage.

Power outages can happen for a number of reasons, including obstruction or damage to power lines due to weather-related conditions such as lightning storms, heavy snow or ice. A power surge occurs as soon as the flow of electricity gets interrupted and started again. This places electrical pressure on the wires in your computer, causing them to heat up and burn. Some wires may melt, and even if your computer survives the surge, the strain alone can cause damage in the long run.

Surges

The first component in your computer that gets hit by the surge is usually the power supply. High-end power supplies are designed to withstand power surges and protect the other components against voltages and currents that are higher than normal. Such a power supply also shuts down automatically during a power outage, and when the power comes back on, it delays startup for a couple of seconds to ensure that the power normalizes first. Aftermarket power supplies, however, don’t always have all of these features, leaving your PC vulnerable. If the power supply fails, an over-current can fry the chips on other components such as your motherboard and CPU.

System Crashes

Protection

Do not rely on your power supply as the only surge protection for your computers. The simplest and often cheapest option is to use a surge protector between your computer and power line. Surge protectors are designed to absorb any currents that go above a certain voltage. This, however, does not prevent a system crash, which is where an uninterruptible power supply, or UPS, can help. This emergency power supply provides power for a limited time to give you a chance to shut down the computer correctly during a power outage. Note that although there are UPS systems that can last for an hour or longer, this is not advised as your computer may overheat.

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Get faster Wi-Fi with these 10 tips

2016June23_Hardware_B

By EDITOR

Whether it be sending an important email to a major client or watching the season finale of your favorite series, a stable internet connection is needed. In order to gain the competitive business edge, there is literally no room for constant page refreshes and never-ending buffering. These ten tips will not only speed up your Wi-Fi but also get you ahead of the competition:

Router centralization and elevation

For optimal signal strength it is best to place the router in the middle of the room, away from other electronics without any doors or walls obstructing it either. It’s always good to keep the router high since routers tend to spread signals downwards, meaning the higher you place it, the more coverage you’re going to get.

Reposition antennas

Try positioning them perpendicular to each other, one being horizontal and the other vertical. Reception is maximized when your device and the transmitter are both operating on the same plane. Former Apple Wi-Fi engineer, Alf Watt, attests to this theory: “perpendicularly positioned antennas ensure optimal wireless reception”.

Use powerline network adapters

Multi-story housing prevents routers from being centrally located, so the next best thing is to use powerline network adapters. These devices work by utilizing the electrical wiring in the walls. First off you would have to plug it in near to and connect it with your router through an Ethernet cable, then plug in the second adapter after you have chosen a room for network coverage. Connection will then be delivered.

Wireless security

Setting up wireless security prevents your network from being compromised by external threats that lead to undesired downtime. After logging into your router’s admin page, change the encryption method to WPA2 and select a password that’s easy to remember.

Utilize heat mapping software

This allows you to see what your wireless heat map looks like, showing you exactly how much coverage each area is getting. With this information, you’d be able to reposition the router into an optimal position, adjust antennas or powerline network adapters to eradicate problematic areas.

Switch to 5GHz

Firstly there are two frequencies to choose from: 2.4 and 5GHz, and for homes or offices dotted with electronic devices the 2.4 GHz spectrum gets crowded pretty quickly. Solve this problem by switching to the 5GHz spectrum since it allows for more devices without cluttering the Wi-Fi.

Move to less crowded channels

Living in crowded neighborhoods or buildings mean that you share the same signal space, depending on which frequency your network operates on. By choosing the right channel, interference is reduced thus speeding up the Wi-Fi. Applications such as Wifi Analyzer or WifiInfoView helps find which channels are overflowing and which ones aren’t.

Router upgrades

Wireless and internet technology have come a long way in the past 5 years, and if your router is older than that – you might want to consider upgrading it. The easiest way to determine if your router is slowing down is to look up the model number and compare its specs with those of the internet package from your ISP.

Turn old routers into Wi-Fi repeaters

When you want to extend your network but your powerline network adapters won’t do, the next best option is to turn your old router into a wireless bridge. This involves installation of custom firmware on your router. If wiring isn’t your thing, this is the best alternative of extending your Wi-Fi to the outer limits of your property.

Contact your ISP as a last resort

If nothing does the trick you should consider calling your ISP. Despite it being an uncomfortable task to accomplish it potentially saves you any future frustration. By contacting your ISP, they’d be able to diagnose the problem and provide a solution for it, at your own expense of course.

The benefits of having an efficient and stable Wi-Fi connection are endless; better communication with clients, more streamlined business operations or even watching your favorite videos without the buffering. Give your business the edge it deserves by giving us a call, we’ll gladly answer any questions you have.

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Microsoft Office 365 ravaged by ransomware

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By EDITOR

Many users feel safe behind their monitors and why shouldn’t they? With the myriad of IT security measures available out there, it’s easy to make any device feel like Fort Knox. What many people underestimate though, is the tenacity and relentless determination which cyber criminals have when searching for the tiniest loophole they can find in our security protocols. The recent Cerber ransomware attack on Microsoft 365 users is the latest incident.

Steven Toole, a researcher for the cloud-security firm Avanan, detailed that his company experienced the first attack at 6:44 a.m. on June 22nd. Another interesting fact is that at least 57 percent of all Microsoft Office 365 customers on Avanan’s platform received at least one phishing attempt that contained the infected attachment. While Avanan did extrapolate the number of Office 365 users involved, the exact number has yet to be revealed.

This is particularly interesting since according to Microsoft’s first quarter reports in 2016, there are over 18.2 million Office 365 subscribers worldwide. On top of the global scale in which the attacks took place, it took Microsoft over 24 hours for the attack to be detected and for any attempts to block the attachment to be made.

Microsoft’s side of the story shares many similarities with slight differences on the detection and actions made about the ransomware attack. In an email to SCMagazine.com, the spokesperson wrote:

“Office 365 malware protection identified the attack and was updated to block it within hours of its origination on June 22. Our investigations have found that this attack is not specific to Office 365 and only a small percentage of Office 365 customers were targeted, all of which have been protected.”

The point is Office 365 was compromised, regardless of how quickly it was detected – many people were asked for a ransom and were told that their files have already been encrypted. Still wanting to come across as polite, the ransom came with an audio recording that detailed what the attack was and what measures must be taken in order to regain access to the files. The unknown attacker asked for a ransom of 1.4 bitcoins or an equivalent of $500 in exchange for the decryption key.

Toole noted that “This attack seems to be a variation of a virus originally detected on network mail servers back in early March of this year,” He also added that “As it respawned into a second life, this time Cerber was widely distributed after its originator was apparently able to easily confirm that the virus was able to bypass the Office 365 built-in security tools through a private Office 365 mail account.”

This proves that cyber criminals go to great lengths to not only use their tools but to improve on them and eliminate flaws. So no matter how many firewalls, passwords or fire-breathing dragons you have to guard your servers and networks, without the right network security measures in place, chances are they’ll manage to find a way to overcome the hurdles and wreak whatever havoc they can.

Network security isn’t something to be taken lightly, if you are unsure about how safe or how capable your systems are in fending off cyber threats – get in touch with us. Our experienced and friendly staff will help you with any ransomware or security-related issue you have.

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