How to extend your laptop battery’s power

By EDITOR

Keeping your laptop plugged in all the time doesn’t solve your battery problems. It may keep your laptop fully charged for a day, but this practice may do more harm than good in the long run. Luckily, there are quick-and-easy fixes and long-term solutions to help save battery power on your laptop. Here’s a look at some of them.

Manage your laptop’s power settings

Computer manufacturers are aware that battery life is an important consideration for most users, which is why many Windows and Apple computers have settings that help reduce battery consumption. Windows laptops have a Power Plan setting that lets you choose either a standard setting or a customized power plan; Energy Saver under MacOS’ ‘System Preferences’ offers a setting that allows you to adjust display and sleep controls.

Adjust display and system settings

You can also make adjustments to your laptop’s display and system settings to reduce brightness, turn off screensaver, disable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi (when they’re not used), and trigger the system to hibernate instead of sleep. A “sleeping” laptop consumes a little energy, but a “hibernating” laptop consumes absolutely none.

Use a battery monitor and other maintenance tools

If you think your laptop battery drains unusually fast, access your system’s battery maintenance tool to check its status. If your laptop doesn’t have one, you can download an application that creates a battery health report. That report will include charge cycle count, which determines the number of charge cycles your laptop has; and battery life estimate, which states how much longer the battery will provide power based on its current settings.

Keep your laptop operating efficiently

One way to accomplish this is by managing your web browser usage. Having many tabs opened on your browser drains your battery’s power and reduces your productivity. If you really must have a handful of tabs opened, consider switching to power-saving browsers such as Windows Edge or Opera. When multitasking, close unused apps and programs — especially those that download files or play media, as they consume the most power. This not only helps reduce battery consumption, but also helps the user stay focused on the task at hand.

Handle your laptop with care

Laptops are delicate and require safe handling and a cool temperature. With the exception of a few models (e.g., Apple’s MacBook Air), many devices are designed with a cooling system that keeps its CPU, graphics processor, and other components from overheating; and not to mention, its battery from depleting fast.

For that reason, handling your laptop with great care ensures longer battery life and better overall performance. When using your laptop on-the-go, make sure you don’t block its vents from circulating air, which means you should never put it on a surface such as a bed or similar soft surface that could prevent its cooling fans from working. And while it may seem harmless — and appropriate — putting your laptop on your lap is actually unsafe.

For businesses with remote workers and/or bring your own device (BYOD) policies, a laptop that lasts all day allows employees to be more productive and saves your company from having to spend on new laptops or replace batteries as a result of neglect. For cost-effective strategies on business technology, call us today.

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7 tips for avoiding data loss in Office 365

By EDITOR

Microsoft understands the value of your business’s data and the costly repercussions of losing it. That’s why they’ve released a slew of security and compliance tools for Office 365 subscribers. But given the increasing sophistication and frequency of data breaches, Office 365 cloud security solutions won’t be enough to protect your files. You’ll need to follow these seven security tips to truly avoid data loss in Office 365.

Take advantage of policy alerts
Establishing policy notifications in Office 365’s Compliance Center can help you meet your company’s data security obligations. For instance, policy tips can warn employees about sending confidential information anytime they’re about to send messages to contacts who aren’t listed in the company network. These preemptive warnings can prevent data leaks and also educate users on safer data sharing practices.

Secure mobile devices
With the growing trend of using personal smartphones and tablets to access work email, calendar, contacts, and documents, securing mobile devices is now a critical part of protecting your organization’s data. Installing mobile device management features for Office 365 enables you to manage security policies and access rules, and remotely wipe sensitive data from mobile devices if they’re lost or stolen.

Use multi-factor authentication
Because of the growing sophistication of today’s cyberattacks, a single password shouldn’t be the only safeguard for Office 365 accounts. To reduce account hijacking instances, you must enable Office 365 multi-factor authentication. This feature makes it more difficult for hackers to access your account since they not only have to guess user passwords but also provide a second authentication factor like a temporary SMS code.

Apply session timeouts
Many employees usually forget to log out of their Office 365 accounts and keep their computers or mobile devices unlocked. This could give unauthorized users unfettered access to company accounts, allowing them to compromise sensitive data. But by applying session timeouts to Office 365, email accounts, and internal networks, the system will automatically log users out after 10 minutes, preventing hackers from simply opening company workstations and accessing private information.

Avoid public calendar sharing
Office 365 calendar sharing features allows employees to share and sync their schedules with their colleagues. However, publicly sharing this schedule is a bad idea. Enabling public calendar sharing helps attackers understand how your company works, determine who’s away, and identify your most vulnerable users. For instance, if security administrators are publicly listed as “Away on vacation,” an attacker may see this as an opportunity to unleash a slew of malware attacks to corrupt your data before your business can respond.

Employ role-based access controls
Another Office 365 feature that will limit the flow of sensitive data across your company is access management. This lets you determine which user (or users) have access to specific files in your company. For example, front-of-house staff won’t be able to read or edit executive-level documents, minimizing data leaks.

Encrypt emails
Encrypting classified information is your last line of defense to secure your data. Should hackers intercept your emails, encryption tools will make files unreadable to unauthorized recipients. This is a must-have for Office 365, where files and emails are shared on a regular basis.

While Office 365 offers users the ability to share data and collaborate flexibly, you must be aware of the potential data security risks at all times. When you work with us, we will make sure your business keeps up with ever-changing data security and compliance obligations. And if you need help securing your Office 365, we can help with that too! Simply contact us today.

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Protect your data from WannaCry

By EDITOR

This month, ransomware has taken center stage yet again. WannaCry has already infected thousands of users around the world. In true ransomware fashion, WannaCry holds user data hostage until the victim decides to pay the ransom. What’s more alarming, however, is that the global success of this malware will likely spawn even more potent variants. To protect your business from ransomware attacks, consider these tips.

Update your software
The first (and probably best) defense against WannaCry ransomware is to update your operating system. New research from Kaspersky shows that machines running Windows XP, 7 and outdated Windows 10 versions were affected by the ransomware. To check whether your systems are up to date, open your Windows search bar, look for Windows Update, click Check for Updates, and install any major updates.

Also, don’t forget to download the latest security patches for your business applications and security software.

Run security programs
Many antivirus programs now have mechanisms for detecting and blocking WannaCry malware; so when you’ve fully updated your security software, run a full system scan.

Keep in mind that antivirus isn’t a foolproof security solution. Instead, run it alongside other security applications like intrusion prevention systems and firewalls.

Use data backup and recovery tools
If WannaCry does infect your computers, only a solid data backup and recovery solution can save your business. Before ransomware strikes, periodically back up your files in both an external hard drive and a cloud-based backup service.

External hard drives will serve as your local backup solution for quick recovery times. However, we recommend keeping the external drive disconnected when it’s not being used and plugging it in only when you need to back up files at the end of the day. This is because when ransomware infects a computer, it will usually look to encrypt local backup drives as well.

Cloud-based backups, on the other hand, allow you to store files in remote data centers and access them from any internet-enabled device. When selecting a cloud services provider, make sure they provide the appropriate cloud protections to your files. For example, your backup vendor should provide reporting tools to keep track of any anomalies in your files. Document versioning features are also important. This allows you to recover older versions of a document in case the current version is encrypted.

After your local and cloud backups are set up, perform regular tests to ensure your disaster recovery plan works.

Stay informed
Finally, it’s important to stay on guard at all times. WannaCry is just one of many ransomware strains affecting businesses today, and in order to stay safe you need to be constantly up to date on the latest cybersecurity- and business continuity-related news.

For more ransomware prevention tips and services, call us today. We’ll make sure hackers don’t hold your business hostage.

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Choosing a web browser: Which one is safest?

By EDITOR

Managing business-level cybersecurity is no simple task. Tens of thousands of users are finding that out the hard way as they confront the issue head on in the wake of an international ransomware epidemic. Although many cybersecurity strategies require professional IT support, a great place to start is assessing the security of your web browser.

Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE)/Edge

Despite their nearly identical logos, Edge and IE are actually different browsers with vastly different security strategies. Microsoft’s legacy browser, IE, isn’t even fully supported anymore. The most recent version still gets occasional updates, but experts don’t expect that to last for long. If any website or services claims to require IE to run, consider that a possible red flag.

Windows 10’s default browser, Edge, is a different story. This browser uses a technology called virtualization to create safe spaces to open and test links before granting a website’s programming code full access to a computer and user. Edge is based on the same software as IE, and the majority of its security improvements come from scrapping the browser’s customizability. If you’re okay with a fairly inflexible browsing experience, Edge is a good option.

Apple Safari

Safari is to Macintosh computers what IE is to Windows machines. Safari comes pre-installed on OS X and it has a long history of battling malware. Its security programming has been bested a number of times, but usually in research settings. The commonly held belief is that Safari just doesn’t have enough users to make it a profitable target. Apple has a history of responding quickly to malware, but we don’t recommend leaving anything to chance.

Mozilla Firefox

One of the earlier third-party web browsers to gain popularity was Firefox. Unfortunately, it just can’t keep up with the competition. In just one example, all the data from browser plugins is stored in the same location, which means a compromised add-on could easily gain access to the data stored in a password manager.

One of the reasons that Firefox continues to stick around is its commitment to privacy. All the other browsers on this list profit from analyzing (and sometimes selling) your browsing habits, while Firefox has cornered the market on privacy. Security and privacy should never be confused, but if the latter is more important to you and you aren’t installing third-party plugins, Mozilla is an OK option.

Google Chrome

Chrome is used by almost two-thirds of all internet users, and for good reason. Like Edge, Chrome also uses virtualization to create a quarantined space between the internet and your computer. Additionally, Google issues routine security updates to its browser more frequently than any of the others on this list. There is near unanimous consent among experts that Chrome is the safest of all web browsers.

Privacy however, is a whole other ball game. Pretty much every action you take using the Chrome browser is tracked, stored and analyzed. That’s not to say that your email isn’t encrypted or your saved passwords aren’t safe, it just means you have much less control over your internet identity.

Being aware of how your web browser stacks up against its competitors is only a fraction of the battle. WannaCry spread to uninfected systems through a gap in the Windows security framework, and most other ransomware infections prey on human error. What your business needs is a comprehensive security audit. For more information, call us today.

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Windows 10 updates for Fall 2017

By EDITOR

Windows 10’s Fall Creators Update is the next major update that Microsoft will roll out in September. Besides reusing the same “Creators Update” name and focusing on bringing the Windows experience to iOS and Android devices, here are some noteworthy features users can expect.

Timeline
It’s designed to grant Windows 10 users freedom to switch between multiple devices, including iOS and Android phones. Timeline lets you pick up from where you left off if you’re switching between multiple Windows 10 devices. With the Cortana integration, this will even extend to some Microsoft apps on iOS and Android. This useful new feature will be accessible via Window 10’s Task View.

OneDrive Files on Demand
This feature allows you to access all your cloud-based files without having to download them in order to optimize your device’s storage space. What’s more, you won’t have to change the way you work, because all your files — even those online — can be seen in File Explorer, and they work just like every other file on your device.

Cloud clipboard
The Windows 10 Fall Creators Update brings a cloud-powered clipboard that lets you copy information from one Windows 10 device and paste it onto another. And this isn’t limited to text alone either. On top of that, it supports Android and iOS devices if you use Microsoft’s SwiftKey virtual keyboard.

Pick up where you left off
As the name suggests, it basically allows you to start working on your PC and continue working on your phone when you are away from your PC (and vice-versa). Currently, the feature works only between Windows 10 PCs in the Windows 10 Creators Update — but with the upcoming Fall Creators Update for Windows 10, Microsoft will be integrating this capability into your phones as well.

My People
It was originally announced as a key feature in the April’s Creator Update, but will be launched in the coming Fall Creators Update. This feature lets you pin a number of connections to your taskbar — three, in the current Insider preview — and stay in constant touch with them. It defaults to Skype, but you can choose an alternative if you’d like.

These are just a handful of the nifty features users can expect from Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. For more information, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re more than happy to help.

We’ll keep you updated on the latest developments.

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Bluetooth users beware!

By EDITOR

Bluetooth technology helps simplify our daily lives — it allows for hands free communication, a quick and easy way to share content with friends, family, colleagues, and more. In fact, 45 percent of Americans have Bluetooth enabled across multiple devices. This raises the question: Does using Bluetooth leave our doors opened to hacker attacks?

Google paid a settlement fee of $7million for unauthorized data collection from unsecured wireless networks in 2013. While their intention likely wasn’t theft, many disagreed and called them out for Bluesnarfing, a method most hackers are familiar with.

What is it?

Bluesnarfing is the use of Bluetooth connection to steal information from a wireless device, particularly common in smartphones and laptops. Using programming languages that allow them to find Bluetooth devices left continuously on and in “discovery” mode, cybercriminals can attack devices as far as 300 feet away without leaving any trace.

Once a device is compromised, hackers have access to everything on it: contact, emails, passwords, photos, and any other information. To make matters worse, they can also leave victims with costly phone bills by using their phone to tap long distance and 900-number calls.

What preventive measures can you take?

The best way is to disable Bluetooth on your device when you’re not using it, especially in crowded public spaces, a hacker’s sweet spot. Other ways to steer clear of Bluesnarfing include:

  • Switching your Bluetooth to “non-discovery” mode
  • Using at least eight characters in your PIN as every digit adds approximately 10,000 more combinations required to crack it
  • Never accept pairing requests from unknown users
  • Require user approval for connection requests (configurable in your smartphone’s security features)
  • Avoid pairing devices for the first time in public areas

Bluesnarfing isn’t by any means the newest trick in a cybercriminal’s book, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less vicious. If you’d like to know more about how to keep your IT and your devices safe, give us a call and we’ll be happy to advise.

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Reasons to back up your mobile devices

By EDITOR

It makes a lot of sense for electronics firms to pack a variety of functions into mobile devices and expand their usefulness. Instead of confining their use to communications, companies such as Apple, Samsung, and others have turned mobile phones into mini-computers that can serve as a substitute for your laptop, or as a storage device. If you’re using mobile phones as a communications and storage device, backing up now would be a wise move.

Malware on mobile

More than 50% of the world’s adult population use a mobile phone with internet connection, so dangers in these handy devices are to be expected. Scarier than the thought of being offline is being online and exposed to malware.

If you use your mobile devices as an extension of your work computers, backing up is a must. Mobile phones have become as vulnerable to malware as laptops and desktops have, especially if you consider the fact that many professionals and business owners use them for emailing confidential documents and storing business-critical files.

Device disasters

Other than malware, other types of disasters can happen on your device. Because you carry it wherever your go, your device can easily be stolen, misplaced, or damaged. They may be easily replaceable, but the data contained in them may not. Having completely backed up data on your devices helps prevent a minor inconvenience from turning into a disastrous situation.

Backup options

Performing backups in iPhone and Android devices is a seamless process. Their operating systems require only minimal effort from users, and backing up entails nothing more than logging into their Apple or Google account. However, other users have different devices with different operating systems, slightly complicating the process.

Mobile devices’ safety is essential to business continuity plans. So whether your office users are tied to a single operating system or prefer different devices, there are options to back up all your organization’s mobile devices. There are cloud backup services that enable syncing of all devices and that back up files, contacts, photos, videos, and other critical files in one neat backup system. These mobile backup tools are offered on monthly or lifetime subscription schemes, which provides small businesses with enough flexibility to ensure protection.

Mobile phones have become so ubiquitous to how people function that many feel the need to have two or more phones, mostly to have one for personal use and another for business. With all these options on hand, there’s no excuse for not backing up data on your mobile devices.

Our experts can provide practical advice on security for your business’s computers and mobile devices. Call us for mobile backup and other security solutions today.

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Microsoft says goodbye to Windows Vista

By EDITOR

We live in a digital era where innovations are emerging quicker than the speed of light. This means older operating systems might soon be discontinued. Case in point, Microsoft Vista. After a 10-year run, Microsoft is set to discontinue support for Vista users from April 11th onwards. On top of that, key security or software updates will cease as well.

Windows Vista
Launched worldwide on January 30th, 2007, Windows Vista has been Microsoft’s operating system for home and business desktops, laptops, tablet PCs and even media center PCs. This version came with a bunch of new features such as Aero, an updated graphical user interface; Windows Search, a new search function; as well as Windows DVD Maker, a new multimedia tool. Vista aimed to increase communication between machines on a home network, with peer-to-peer technology that simplifies file sharing.

Windows Vista criticism
Not too long after its release, the operating system came under fire from both the users and the press. Initially, Vista aimed to improve the state of security, the main criticism its predecessor — Windows XP — received. There were commonly exploited security vulnerabilities and overall susceptibility to malware, viruses, and buffer overflows. According to Net Applications, Windows Vista has less than 1 percent of global market share in terms of PC operating systems. Despite that, Windows 10 is doing extremely well, boasting over 400 million devices running on it.

Will computers still function properly?
Essentially, yes, but they will be susceptible to viruses on account of Microsoft discontinuing security updates. On top of that, Internet Explorer 9 won’t be supported either, meaning surfing the web with this browser could possibly expose you to even more vulnerabilities. Microsoft also warned users that certain apps and devices would not work with Vista, as software and hardware manufacturers are optimizing services for newer versions of Windows.

What’s the next step for your business?
We recommend that you upgrade to Microsoft’s latest operating system: Windows 10. But before doing so, check the software and hardware specifications of your PCs, since they might not be able to handle Windows 10. If that’s the case, users can opt for a Windows 7 upgrade as an alternative.

Keeping up with the latest technological innovations might be a tedious task, but it’s also an imperative one. To ensure the future of your small- or medium-sized business, you’ll be needing IT that works for you and not the other way round. For more information on Windows operating systems, feel free to get in touch with us today!

 

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When did you last update your firmware?

By EDITOR

Most IT consultants constantly remind clients of how important it is to update and patch their software, but neglect the importance of updating hardware. We don’t mean replacing it with new hardware; we mean updating the applications and settings coded into the physical IT powering every modern office.

What is firmware?

Firmware is a very basic type of software that is embedded into every piece of hardware. It cannot be uninstalled or removed, and is only compatible with the make and model of the hardware it is installed on. Think of it like a translator between your stiff and unchanging hardware and your fluid and evolving software.

For example, Windows can be installed on almost any computer, and it helps users surf the internet and watch YouTube videos. But how does Windows know how to communicate and connect with your hardware router to do all that? Firmware on your router allows you to update and modify settings so other, more high-level, pieces of software can interact with it.

Why is firmware security so important?

Firmware installed on a router is a great example of why addressing this issue is so critical. When you buy a router and plug it in, it should be able to connect devices to your wireless network with almost zero input from you. However, leaving default settings such as the username and password for web browser access will leave you woefully exposed.

And the username and password example is just one of a hundred. More experienced hackers can exploit holes that even experienced users have no way of fixing. The only way to secure these hardware security gaps is with firmware updates from the device’s manufacturer.

How do I protect myself?

Firmware exploits are not rare occurrences. Not too long ago, a cyber security professional discovered that sending a 33-character text message to a router generated an SMS response that included the administrator username and password.

Unfortunately, every manufacturer has different procedures for checking and updating firmware. The best place to start is Googling “[manufacturer name] router firmware update.” For instance, if you have a DLink of Netgear router, typing “192.168.0.1” into a web browser will allow you to access its firmware and update process, assuming you have the username and password.

Remember that routers are just one example of how firmware affects your cyber security posture. Hard drives, motherboards, even mouses and keyboards need to be checked. Routinely checking all your devices for firmware updates should be combined with the same process you use to check for software updates.

It can be a tedious process, and we highly recommend hiring an IT provider to take care of it for you. If you’re curious about what else we can do to help, give us a call today!

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The phishing craze that’s blindsiding users

By EDITOR

Most phishing attacks involve hiding malicious hyperlinks hidden behind enticing ad images or false-front URLs. Whatever the strategy is, phishing almost always relies on users clicking a link before checking where it really leads. But even the most cautious users may get caught up in the most recent scam. Take a look at our advice for how to avoid the newest trend in phishing.

What are homographs?

There are a lot of ways to disguise a hyperlink, but one strategy has survived for decades — and it’s enjoying a spike in popularity. Referred to as “homographs” by cybersecurity professionals, this phishing strategy revolves around how browsers interpret URLs written in other languages.

Take Russian for example, even though several Cyrillic letters look identical to English characters, computers see them as totally different. Browsers use basic translation tools to account for this so users can type in non-English URLs and arrive at legitimate websites. In practice, that means anyone can enter a 10-letter Cyrillic web address into their browser and the translation tools will convert that address into a series of English letters and numbers.

How does this lead to phishing attacks?

Malicious homographs utilize letters that look identical to their English counterparts to trick users into clicking on them. It’s an old trick, and most browsers have built-in fail-safes to prevent the issue. However, a security professional recently proved that the fail-safes in Chrome, Firefox, Opera and a few other less popular browsers can be easily tricked.

Without protection from your browser, there’s basically no way to know that you’re clicking on a Cyrillic URL. It looks like English, and no matter how skeptical you are, there’s no way to “ask” your browser what language it is. So you may think you’re clicking on apple.com, but you’re actually clicking on the Russian spelling of apple.com — which gets redirected to xn—80ak6aa92e.com. If that translated URL contains malware, you’re in trouble the second you click the link.

The solution

Avoiding any kind of cybersecurity attack begins with awareness, and when it comes to phishing, that means treating every link you want to click with skepticism. If you receive an email from someone you don’t know, or a suspicious message from someone you do, always check where it leads. Sometimes that’s as simple as hovering your mouse over hyperlink text to see what the address is, but when it comes to homographs that’s not enough.

In the case of homographs, the solution is unbelievably simple: Manually type in the web address. If you get an email from someone you haven’t heard from in 20 years that says “Have you checked out youtube.com??”, until your browser announces a fix, typing that URL into your browser’s address bar is the only way to be totally sure you’re safe.

For most, this trend feels like yet another development that justifies giving up on cybersecurity altogether. But for small- and medium-sized businesses that have outsourced their technology support and management to a competent and trustworthy IT provider, it’s just another reason to be thankful they decided against going it alone. If you’re ready to make the same decision, call us today.

 

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