Are Registry Cleaners a Good Idea?

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You have likely been alerted by popups while browsing the web.  These, often flashing, advertisements claim your computer has more than a thousand errors requiring urgent attention to fix.  Perhaps helpfully, these popups offer a solution to cure your computer with a click of the mouse.  Buttons marked “fix now” appear to offer a simple fix to all your computer troubles.

These advertisements are often described as Registry Cleaners, or by a few other names that attempt to convince the user they will somehow clean or improve their home PC.  Within the IT industry they are known as “scareware”.  They are software designed to convince you that your computer has problems it might not have.

Are they trustworthy?

Almost all popups and advertisements that use banners saying “Fix now for free” are not trustworthy at all.  They are little more than a scam attempting to take your credit card details, PC data or both. At best these programs might claim to scan your computer and show a convincing list of plausible sounding computer problems.  Using this, they will ask for payment to “fix” these problems to get your PC back in shape again.

At worst these advertisements can be downright malicious. Some may attempt to use fake warnings and scare tactics to trick customers into installing spyware on their own computers. When installed, spyware will attempt to steal information in the background.  Attackers may use this technique to steal usernames, passwords, emails, and credit card details.  Sometimes the first sign a user has that something is wrong is when a virus scan detects software doing something it shouldn’t be.

Do I need to clean the registry?

The Windows system and various applications installed on your PC do leave files on stored your computer.  These files can stay behind or go out of date even after the application that initially made them has been removed.  These files can use up a little space on the hard drive and generally cause minor clutter within the system.

Despite the large amount of “scareware” and fraudulent computer cleanup scans out there, legitimate applications designed to clean your system do exist.  This can be something I cover and is often done as a single small part of a complete computer tune up. Keeping up with out of date files and freeing up unused space is worthwhile and can be considered “good housekeeping”.  The vast speed boosts many online advertisements claim to unlock by simply moving files around are almost always false.
The home computer, however, is commonly upgraded and can be boosted by more conventional means. If the speed of your PC is no longer up to the task, there are ways in which you can unlock far greater gains than simple housekeeping chores.

PC Boosters

Relatively low-cost hardware components such as memory can often be added to boost the speed of even an older PC and unlock a new lease of life.  Upgrading the computers RAM can double the working memory available to the operating system. With extra memory, many programs can keep more information available to work with. This upgrade reduces loading times and increases the computers ability to run more programs at once.

Another common speed boosting upgrade involves how we store and load data from the computer. Switching from an older style mechanical hard drive to a modern Solid State Disk (SSD) can bring down the startup and loading time of any PC.

Loading data from the hard drive is very often the slowest part of a computer, the bottleneck in an otherwise very fast system.  Because an SSD does not use any mechanical components the time to access the disk is nearly instant when compared to older, mechanical hard disks.

Safe Speed Boosts

These upgrades offer boosts in speed to rival a modern system at only a fraction of the cost originally paid for the computer. Upgrading the RAM, swapping to an SSD, or doing both will provide an instant, dramatic, and safe improvement to the speed of your PC.

If your computer is running slow give me at a call at (828) 290-8237  to arrange a real and professional cleanup.

The Top 5 IT Security Problems for Businesses

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Companies that suffer security breaches nearly always have one of these IT security problems. Is your company guilty of any of them?

No Backups

A shocking number of businesses are not backing up their data properly.  According to market research company Clutch, 60 percent of businesses who suffer a data loss shut down within six months.
Not only should every business be fully backing up their data, but their backups should be regularly tested to work too.  It’s a step that businesses miss surprisingly often. Many businesses don’t find out that their backup can’t be used until it’s already too late.

Reactive and not proactive

The world is constantly changing.  The IT world doubly so.  Attackers are always figuring out new ways to break into businesses, hardware evolves faster than most can keep up, and old systems fail due to wear and tear far quicker than we would like. A huge number of businesses wait until these issues impact them directly before they respond.  The result is higher costs, longer downtime, and harder hitting impacts.

By responding to hardware warnings before it fails, fixing security holes before they’re exploited, and upgrading systems before they are out of date: IT can be done the right way. Being proactive about your IT needs means systems don’t have to break or compromised before they are fixed.  The result for your business is less downtime, fewer losses, and lower IT costs.

Weak Passwords

A surprising number of people will use the password “password” to secure some of their most important accounts.  Even more still will write their own password on a post-it note next to their computer.  In some cases, many will even use no password at all. Strong passwords act, not only as a barrier to prevent unwanted entry, but as a vital accountability tool too.  When system changes are made it’s often essential that the account that made changes is secured to the right person.

With an insecure password or worse; none at all, tracking the individual responsible for reports or accountability becomes impossible.  This can result in both auditing disasters on top of technical ones.

Insufficient Staff Training

Humans in the system are commonly the weakest point in IT security.  Great IT security can be a bit like having state-of-the-art locks on a door propped open with a milk crate.  If staff aren’t trained to use the lock, it’s worth nothing at all.

Often times businesses can justify spending big on security for the latest and greatest IT defenses.  The very same firms may exceed their budget and spend almost zero on training staff to use them. In this instance, a little goes a long way.  Security training can help staff to identify a threat where it takes place, avoiding and mitigating damage, often completely.

Weak Data Controls

Some companies can take an ad-hoc, fast and loose approach to storing professional data.  Often crucial parts can be spread across many devices, copied needlessly, and sometimes even left unsecured. Client data can be found regularly on employee laptops, mobile phones, and tablet devices.  These are famously prone to being misplaced or stolen out in the field along with vital client and security data.
It can be easy for both employees and firms to focus on the costs of devices and hardware purchased for the business.

The reality is that the data held on devices is almost always worth many times more than the device that holds it. For many firms, their approach to data hasn’t been changed since the firm was first founded.  Critical data is often held on single machines that haven’t been updated precisely because they hold critical data.  Such machines are clearly vulnerable, outdated, and prone to failure.

Common problems with simple solutions
Each of these common issues have simple solutions to secure against IT failure.  With a professional eye and expertise in the field, every business should be defended against IT issues that risk the firm.

If you need help securing your IT to protect your business, give me a call at (828) 290-8237.

4 Signs You’ve Been Hacked

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Being hacked is a huge fear of most computer users.  Many believe the first sign of strange behavior or errors on their PC is a sign hackers have taken control.  But are hackers really inside your machine, stealing your information? Or should you be on the lookout for more subtle signs?  What does being hacked really look like?

There is an important distinction to make between being hacked by a person and being infected with a virus or malware. Virus software and malware are automated processes designed to damage your system, steal your data, or both.  There are of course ways that you can defeat these processes, but what if you are instead hacked by an individual?

Logins not working

One of the first steps a hacker might take would be to change the computers passwords.  By doing so, not only do they ensure future access to the account, they prevent you from accessing the system to stop them. For the hacker, this is a crucial step that keeps them in control.  With this in mind, you always want to make sure to keep on top of our own login details and how often you change them.

Security Emails or Texts from online services

Many services track which device and location you logged into your account from last.  If your account is accessed from a new device or a different country it might trigger an automated email or text message to ask if this new login is your own.

If you have logged in using a new computer, tablet, or phone; an email that asks “hey, is this you?” need not be cause for alarm.  If you haven’t, it may be time to investigate further. This service is an important part of information security. It may be a key first step to identify someone else gaining access to your account.

Bank accounts missing money or strange transactions

Most commonly today, hackers commit crimes to steal money. The end goal for hackers is typically to profit from their crimes by taking money from people online.

It always pays to keep a regular eye on your financial transactions to make sure you know what money is coming and going from your account.

You may see a large sum missing where hackers have attempted to take as much as they can in a single transaction.

Alternatively small, hard to notice transactions may appear.  These often account for small purchases where attackers have tested the details they have to make sure they work.

Sudden loss of cellular connectivity

Network interruption is a symptom that few people expect but occurs commonly when hackers attack. Many banks and online services use a security feature known as Two-factor authentication.  To do this they send a short code to your phone or app when you log in.  Two-factor authentication is ideal in most cases and a great boost to security.

Hackers can try to work around this by calling your mobile service provider to report your phone as lost or stolen.  During this call, they will request your phone number be transferred to a new sim card that they control. When your bank sends its regular two-factor authentication code to the number registered, it goes instead to the hacker who may be able to log in.  From your perspective phone service will simply stop working.

Keeping vigilant and maintaining security

These are only some of the modern techniques that hackers can try to use to gain access to your accounts.  It pays to pay close attention to the signs and signals that indicate you may have been hacked.

If you suspect that you might have been hacked, or would like help to prevent hackers in future, give me a call at (828) 290-8237.