Got a New Device? Here’s the Essential Tech Prep You Can’t Afford to Skip

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It’s tons of fun getting a new device. Whether it’s a new desktop, laptop or phone: the thrill of getting it home and opening the box is great. I know, I love tech too. It even has its own version of new car smell! Once you get it home though, there are a number of things that need to be done before it’s really usable – beyond snazzing it up with a new case or mousepad.

The sellers like to say it’s ready to use straight from the box – and it is – except not quite the way you need it to work. They’ll all turn on, look for wifi, and sure, you can type…but rather like when you buy a new fridge, simply turning it on isn’t enough – it’s still empty and you’re still hungry.  A few minutes now to prep your new device will save you time, stress, and quite possibly money.

Today, I’m talking vital tech prep for new devices:

Security Updates and Fixes

From the factory to your hands, that device has been in the box for at least a month. In the world of security, that’s an eternity. During that time on the shelf, new viruses have come out and new software weaknesses have been discovered. Fortunately, new updates to combat these problems were also created, they just haven’t been downloaded to your device yet. I can make sure your essential software is up-to-date and set to stay that way. That way, you know your device is safe to go online.

Data Transfer From Old to New

Some people want to transfer everything from one device to another, others like to have a fresh start and keep the old device as a backup. I can either transfer your data entirely or just the things you use. For computers, I can even turn your old hard drive into an external drive that you can plug into your new computer and grab files as required.

Setting up Hardware

If your new device is a computer, you’ll need to hook it up to extra tech like a printer or webcam. These tasks that should be plug-and-play can sometimes get complicated, especially when you’ve got a plug mismatch or incompatible drivers. I can help get you set up, with everything tested and working.

Setting up Email and Software

This is one people commonly forget and then struggle with. Email clients in particular, need special configuration to connect properly. Quite often, I find people are stuck only able to receive, with overflowing unsent mail that won’t go anywhere! I’ll get all your personal software and connections up and going.

Setting up the Network

While tapping in a wifi password is easy enough, it doesn’t mean your browsing is secure, or even as fast as it could possibly be. I can quickly determine which connectivity method will be best for your device and your needs, and hook you up with fast, robust security measures.

Lockdown Privacy & Permissions

Whether you have children and are looking to provide a safe online experience, files you’d prefer to keep private, or simply want to set up ‘profiles’ for each user to have their own login, I can quickly get your new device configured to meet your needs.
I love to help. Give me a call at (828) 290-8237 and I’ll get your new device up and running.

3 Tech Tips to Make You a Better Business Owner

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There’s no doubt about it, business can be tough! You’re juggling employees, customers, suppliers, stakeholders…the list is endless. You’re also operating in a competitive, high-tech economy that keeps trying to speed ahead without you. It’s no wonder you’re craving ways to get ahead of the competition, cut costs, boost productivity and dreaming of a vacation. Here are 3 tech tips that will make your life easier – and maybe get you closer to that ‘World’s Best Boss’ mug.

Consider a commuting policy
With better technology and faster internet connections, remote working isn’t just a possibility now, it’s an expectation. Clearly, not for every job (virtual burgers anyone?), but there are a lot of computer tasks in your business that could be done from home. Even if you offer a split week with 1-2 days at home and the remainder in the office, this can be a huge boost to your productivity.

From your perspective, remote employees can be more efficient without the distractions of yet another birthday sing-along, they have fewer absences and stay in the job longer. From the employee perspective, they don’t need to waste time commuting, get their work done faster, and generally feel happier and healthier.

Don’t cheap out on technology
Unsurprisingly, a tech newsletter is advising you to invest in tech, but hear me out. Technology is rapidly becoming the backbone of most businesses, yet we still see people who try and get by with the bare minimum investment and maintenance. And by ‘see people’, I mean they’re the most frequent repair and data recovery clients.

When you take shortcuts with your tech you’ll likely get higher failure rates, more downtime, and employees who can’t do their job even though you’re still paying them by the hour. When businesses keep old tech longer than they should, thinking of the immediate cost saving, they usually end up paying more in the long term.

Embrace the cloud
Many of your existing software packages have a cloud version, which would allow multiple people to access it at once and give added backup or synchronization benefits. Your remote workers, mobile staff, accountant or CFO can all view the same reports without anyone having the trouble of sending out separate copies.

Cloud technology is also perfect for notetaking and collaboration using software like Evernote or OneDrive. You and your employees can think of ideas while out and about, make a few notes on a mobile device, and have it all synced perfectly to your desktop when you need it. You can even scan in paperwork and have your entire filing cabinet in your pocket.

Your business tech can unlock multiple possibilities that will make your days run smoother, more profitable and put you miles ahead of the competition. Ready?

Give me a call at (828) 290-8237 to make your tech work harder for you.

How to Tell if Your Computer Has a Virus?

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Sometimes computers do strange things that ring alarm bells and make us dive for cover. Next thing you know, you’re running scans on repeat and demanding everyone come clean about their browsing habits. Fortunately, not all weird occurrences are caused by viruses – sometimes your computer is simply overloaded, overheating or in desperate need of a reboot.

Here are the tell-tale signs of a malware attack:

1. Bizarre error messages

Messages popping up from nowhere that make no sense, are poorly worded or plain gibberish – especially if they’re about a program you don’t even have. Take note of anti-virus warnings too, check the warning is from YOUR anti-virus software and looks like it should. If a message pops up that isn’t quite right, don’t click. Not even to clear or cancel the message. Close the browser or shut down the computer instead, then run a full scan.

2. Suddenly deactivated anti-virus/malware protection

You know the best way to get past the guard? Send him for a coffee break! Certain viruses are programmed to take out the security systems first, leaving you open to infection. If you reboot and your protections aren’t back on the job, you are more than likely under attack. Attempt to start the anti-virus manually and you’ll know for sure.

3. Social media messages you didn’t send

Are your friends replying to messages you never wrote? Your login details might have been hacked and your friends are now being tricked into giving up personal information or money. Change your password immediately, and advise your friends of the hack.

4. Web browser acting up

Perhaps you’ve noticed your homepage has changed, it’s using an odd search engine or opening/redirecting unwanted sites. If your browser has gone rogue, it’s definitely a virus, usually one intended to steal your personal or financial details. Skip the online banking and email until your scans come up clear and everything is working normally again.

5. Sluggish performance

If your computer speed has dropped, boot up takes an eternity and even moving the mouse has become a chore, it’s a sign that something is wrong. But not necessarily a virus. Run your anti-virus scan and if that resolves it, great. If not, your computer likely needs a tune-up or quickie repair.

6. Constant computer activity

You’re off the computer but the hard drive is going nuts, the fans are whirring, and the network lights are flashing like a disco? It’s almost like someone IS using the computer! Viruses and malware attacks use your computer resources, sometimes even more than you do. Take note of what’s normal, and what’s not.

Got a virus? Give me a call at (828) 290-8237.

6 Simple Tips to Protect Your Customer Data

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As cyber-attacks continue to make headlines, hackers are exposing or selling customer data files in record numbers. But just like with any threat, there are actions you can take to minimize risk and ensure your business retains a positive reputation among customers.

1. Stop using the same password on repeat. Set a mandate for all staff that passwords must be unique for each user and for your workplace. That means it can’t be remotely like the one on their home PC, tablet or online banking. Passwords are hacked more than ever, so when you’re prompted for a password change, dig deep and really think about what goes into a hacker-proof password. If remembering them is a problem, consider one of the latest password management tools.

2. Go on a shredding spree. How much sensitive data is being dumped into the recycling bin? Valuable customer data is often taken from the bins of small businesses and quickly sold or published. Take 5 seconds to run documents through the shredder or book in the services of a secure shredding company.

3. Ditch the accounting spreadsheets. Still using an Excel doc for all your number-crunching? Besides making your accountant’s job harder (and more expensive), you’re opening your business to a massive range of vulnerabilities. Even with password-protection, spreadsheets aren’t designed to safeguard your financials or those of your clients. Upgrade to a proper accounting solution with built-in customer data protections and security guarantees.

4. Train staff explicitly. You can’t rely on common sense because what you think is a given might be news to someone else. It can be extremely beneficial to hold special data-safety training sessions once or twice a year as a reminder, as well as take the time to induct new staff into the way things are done.

5. Limit access to data. Just like the bank manager who guards the keys to the vault, you can limit who accesses your data. Revoke employee access as soon as they leave your business for good, and set rules around who can access what – and when. Do they need access to sensitive information while working from home? Should they be able to change the files, or only view them?

6. Keep your software updated. Possibly the most preventable hack, having outdated software can be an open invitation for cyber-criminals. They look for known weaknesses in business software and waltz right in. While the nagging pop-ups and reminders to update can feel like a selling ploy, they’re actually helping your business to stay in the safe zone. Updated software gives you protection against new viruses and hacking techniques, plus closes off those nasty weaknesses.

If you would like to make sure your business is secure from data breaches, give me a call at (828) 290-8237.

Should I Upgrade or Buy a New Computer?

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Well, it depends – mostly on who you’re asking! A department store salesman will always recommend a new one, but when you get down to the nitty gritty with a trained technician, you’ll often discover you have more (and cheaper) options than you thought.

Start by taking stock of what you’ve got. Sometimes an upgrade simply isn’t worth the trouble and it’s painfully obvious. For example, if your car is 30 years old, demands a constant supply of special fuel and you can see the road whizzing by thanks to the ‘custom’ holes in the floor…it’s time to replace the rust-bucket! However, if your car is decently modern and in reasonably good condition but happens to stall at stop signs, a few quick fixes can be just what the mechanic ordered.

If your computer does need to be replaced, chances are you already know this. But if you’re not sure and some days it could go either way, this will help. We’ve put together a walkthrough of the most common upgrades and the impact they’ll have:

Video card upgrade: It might not be your computer that’s getting old. Instead, games are getting more and more demanding. The days of stick-figure animations are gone and lifelike 3D is the new normal. With that improved experience comes a huge strain on your computer’s resources. If you have a gamer in the house, you can often super-power your computer with a single component – a new video card. For hardcore gamers, it’s actually a necessity, as some new games refuse to install if the video requirements aren’t met. Love smooth animations and responsive gameplay? I can match you with the right video card.

Hard drive upgrade: New hard drives are a popular option, both in size and speed. Running out of space is less of a problem now, but speed is a major concern. You’ve no doubt sat there twiddling your thumbs and urging a file to hurry up and copy. Many upgrades are to an SSD (Solid State Drive) that has zero moving parts and can find/transfer data in a flash. They even make booting up lightning fast! And you’ll have the choice of keeping your old drive for general storage, complete with all your existing data.

Memory/RAM upgrade: Some cheaper computers are underpowered from day 1. In truth, most of the ones in the department store could use at least an extra 4GB of RAM. Sometimes though, even a great computer falls behind as new applications come out and need more resources. Adding extra memory can revive your existing computer and set it up for a couple more years of happiness.

Where to draw the line: There are other upgrades such as the CPU, which is basically the brains of the computer; and the motherboard that all the parts plug into…but once you’re in that territory, it really is time to go for a full replacement. You’ll save money by getting a computer that meets your needs and can grow with you.

Is your computer letting you down? Give me a call at (828)290-8237 to help you with upgrading or selecting a new computer

143 million Customers Exposed in Financial Data Breach

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Credit reporting company Equifax has just revealed that its databases were hacked in a large-scale breach affecting millions across the US, UK & Canada. While no hacking event is ever good news, some are easier to ignore than others – this isn’t one of them. The sensitive nature of the exposed data now requires immediate action for all those even possibly affected.

The short version: Equifax is one of the three main organizations in the US that manages & calculates credit scores. To do that effectively, they have access to almost every piece of financial data for adults in the country, plus pretty much anyone who’s lived/worked in the US. We’re talking social security, tax file numbers, drivers’ license, credit card numbers…the big stuff. On July 29, Equifax disclosed the breach, stating that hackers had repeatedly gotten in through a vulnerability in the web application from mid-May to July of this year.

If you’re an Equifax customer: As scary as all that sounds, what’s done is done. Equifax, cyber-security experts & law enforcement officials are on the case, working to minimize the long-term damage.
The best action now is to protect yourself against fallout:

1. Go to: http://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com and click on the button that says “Check Potential Impact” to see if your data may have been affected. There was some news that this site was delivering random results, but Equifax announced it has been corrected. At this stage, it’s safest to assume everyone with a credit history has been impacted, so unless that link gives a definite ‘no you’re safe’ response, continue with the following recommendations.

2. Claim the Equifax free year of credit monitoring & identity theft insurance (if you’re a US resident). If you’re not eligible, consider sourcing your own. As the hacked data will continue to circulate for some time, also consider extending your credit monitoring for a few more years.

3. Keep a close eye on your finances and accounts. Check for notifications of new credit applications, monitor your statements and bills, and immediately report any suspicious activity or sudden change in billing.

4. Change all your passwords to be strong, unique and long. Any of the stolen data may give hackers a free pass into the rest of your bank accounts, email and personal information.

5. Add two-factor authentication where possible. This is when an account demands a second layer of authentication before allowing access or changes – getting the password correct isn’t enough, the hacker would also need to get the special code sent by SMS.

6. Consider freezing your credit report. This makes it harder for identity thieves to open accounts under your name, as access is completely restricted until you choose to un-freeze.

Need help with your passwords? Give me a call at (828) 290-8237.

Why Do People Create Viruses?

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You’d be right in thinking it’s hard to program a computer virus that can spread across the world in a flash – we’re talking days of constant desk-jockey nerd-work.  So why do they bother? Well, it generally comes down to 3 reasons: Money, showing off their skill, or to simply being a jerk. While showing off or being a jerk is pretty self-explanatory, the money side is fascinating.

Here’s how people are making money with computer viruses:

Bank account theft: Virus creators are more than happy to help themselves to your bank details, sneaking in to grab your login details or credit card info. They can either transfer your funds away or use your credit card details to go on a shopping spree. Sometimes they’ll leave the fun to another person though, and simply sell your details to the highest bidder.

Ransomware: Rather than a financial snatch and grab, sometimes a virus will encrypt your files and demand money for the unlock code. Without a true backup plan in place beforehand, you’re at their mercy. You’ll be given very helpful information on how to pay, plus a firm deadline before your files are destroyed permanently.

Ad swappers: A brash technique, this is when they create a virus that either puts annoying ads on websites you visit, or places affiliate codes on pages so that when you buy something legitimately – eg, from Amazon – they get a percentage as a ‘referral fee’. Their kickback doesn’t make your purchase cost more and you may not even know you’re supporting their activities.

Bitcoin mining: You might have heard of digital currencies being used for payment, but did you know you can also earn them with your computer processing power? Unfortunately, ‘renting’ out your computer’s processing power means paying more in running costs than you’d make – unless you were very clever and sneaky, and used a virus to rent out other people’s computers.

Botnets: Certain infected computers can be remotely controlled to do whatever the virus creator wants. In this case, they’ll usually set the infected bot computers to overwhelm a target web server, like an e-commerce store. Sometimes it’s done as revenge, but more often it’s blackmail. The ‘Botmaster’ says “pay me thousands of dollars or I’ll crash your site during the biggest shopping day of the year.”

Account stealing: Subscription accounts like Netflix and Hulu are often hijacked, leaving you to pay the bill for someone else’s entertainment. But sometimes, virus creators go one step further with online gaming accounts. All those digital items that you fought so hard for (special clothing, weapons etc.) can carry real world value and be stolen from your account and sold on a black market. Yes, that’s cheating!

Give me a call at (828) 290-8237 to make sure your computer is secure and protected.

7 Bonuses for Small Business in Office 365

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You’ve seen all the ads for Office 365. They’re popping up on your desktop, your employees are sending you meaningful looks, and clearly, it’s not going away. You’ve probably even jumped online to see what all the fuss is about. But is Office 365 a necessary upgrade for your small business? The answer is yes. It’s more than a refreshed set of tools, it’s an efficiency and productivity powerhouse.

Here are 7 spot-on reasons why small business owners should upgrade now.

1. Data security is built in

Office 365 was created with data security at its core. The built-in compliance and security protocols mean your cloud storage is safe, and you can control access so your valuable data remains exactly where you want it. Storing your data in the 365 cloud keeps it safe in case of emergency, with 1TB of storage per user included at no extra cost.

2. Ditch the licensing drama

Software version differences can be a real nightmare in a small office. Not every system can do the same things, and half the time, they can’t even open the same files. It quickly becomes a hodge-podge of workarounds and lost time. Office 365 includes site-wide licenses with upgrades at the same time.

3. Mail storage for real people

Not everyone lives in the land of inbox zero. In fact, most people tend to leave messages in their inbox forever. Occasionally we’ll do a quick clean up, but only when the alert comes in that the mailbox is full. Meanwhile, new emails from customers may be bouncing away with the old ‘mailbox full’ message. In Office 365, your employees can communicate without worrying about storage space.

4. Better time management

Every person in your business is juggling meetings, emails and contacts – usually across multiple platforms. Office 365 brings all those elements together, integrating seamlessly for more efficient time management. Contacts updated via mobile while offsite are automatically updated across all connected devices. Meetings scheduled in an email are added instantly to the calendar. You can even access files from any device, edit on the run and then back in the office, simply pick up where you left off.

5. Predictable costs

Forget about planning (and delaying) those costly upgrades. Office 365 has small business covered. You can choose a plan based on your unique needs and change at any time. You can even add or decrease the number of users as you scale and streamline. It’s so easy to fit Office 365 into your monthly budget while knowing you’ve got the very best and latest in small business software.

6. Work on the go

The days of fiddling with private network and security settings are over, thanks to Office 365. You don’t even need any special IT skills or extra software. Users can now securely access their files from home, during their commute, or in meetings for on-the-fly impressive presentations. Got an internet connection? That’s all they’ll need to squeeze productivity out of every day.

7. Stay up and running with no downtime

A whopping 25% of small businesses shut down permanently after flood, fire, crash or cyber-attack. With Office 365, all your data is stored in the cloud with built-in backups for redundancy. No matter what happens, your data will be there, letting you stay up and running – and always ahead of the pack.

If you are ready to take your email to the next level, give me a call on (828) 290-8237.

Why is my Computer Running so SLOW?

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Woah, who slammed on the brakes? Your computer used to speed through startup and let you open almost everything at once, but now it’s struggling to crawl along! Everything takes so much longer or crashes without warning. Something isn’t right. If it’s gotten so bad that you’ve found yourself drooling over the idea of a new computer, even though your system isn’t that old, I’ve got some good news:  you can get your speed back with a little TLC.

Computers generally start slowing down within 12 months, but it’s not usually because their parts are broken. And it’s not because they’re faulty. It’s not even because you have so many browser tabs open that you lose count. Slow computers have a number of causes, but the most common ones are easily fixed.

Background programs

Whenever your computer is turned on, it’s running programs in the background. You didn’t start them and they may not be essential to operation, but off they go anyway. You can’t even see some of them, they don’t have windows or anything to look at.  A good example is your antivirus program. You don’t need to see it all the time, but you know it’s running in the background, protecting you.

Over time, more and more programs might slip into the background and casually suck up your resources, like iTunes helper, Acrobat updater, Cortana listening, Skype or Spotify.  We can speed up your system by setting these background programs to run only when you need them, or remove them completely.

Application bloat

How do you improve last year’s version of a program? Add more features! The problem with this is the applications become bloated with features you may not need (or even know about), but that keep needing more and more resources. Each time the developers review their programs, they assume you’ve bought the latest and greatest computer and can run whatever they release.

This means a slow computer can sneak up after an auto-update. You may not even know the update happened, just that your computer is suddenly making you very unhappy. Eventually, your system grinds to a halt. You can remove unused applications or increase your computer power as required.

Slow hard drives

Your data is stored on a part called the hard drive. It’s usually a mechanical type that works like a record player, with a spinning platter and a ‘needle’ reading it. If your data is spread out across lots of places on the platter, the hard drive head ‘needle’ has to go backwards and forwards thousands of times just to retrieve a single file. Unsurprisingly, that takes more time to bring up your file. You can optimize your data to give the hard drive head a break, but an even better solution is to upgrade to an SSD. That’s a Solid State Drive that stores data in memory chips, like your USB drive, and has no moving parts. Without the physical need to move a hard drive needle, your computer can access data much faster.

Unfortunately, once your computers starts slowing, for whatever reason, the problem only gets worse. The background programs will continue to multiply, the bloat keeps coming, and the hard drive begs for relief.  Rather than buy a whole new system though, it’s completely possible for your current computer to go back to being lightning fast – and for a fraction of the cost.

Would you like me to give your computer a new lease on life? Give me a call at (828) 290-8237.

Boost Your Email Impact with These Smart Strategies

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Most small businesses rely on email as their preferred form of communication. Either internally or externally to clients, customers and suppliers, email is the go-to format we’d be lost without. Our love affair with it is no surprise – it’s quick, simple and provides a paper trail. But its convenience doesn’t always mean relaxed. In fact, poor email communication can hurt your reputation and cost you customers. Here’s how to be smart with your business email:

Manage your inbox: Your inbox is only for items you still need to access. Once you’re finished with an email, you should delete it or archive it. If you were to imagine your inbox as physical letters, you’d never let it grow to a 6-foot high stack of chaos. Instead, you’d either throw them out or do the filing. It’s not hard to identify which ones to keep for reference, so create inbox folders to sort them accordingly. As emails arrive and are actioned, move them to the relevant folder or the delete bin.

Write professional messages: Stepping across the line from casual to careless is easy if you skip the basic elements of good business writing. Grammar will always be important and the sentence structure of your language hasn’t changed. All email programs include a spell-checker, many of which draw attention to errors immediately, so there’s really no excuse. Typing in all CAPS is seen as yelling, and breaking your text into paragraphs makes your message so much more readable. One last thing before you click send, quickly glance over your email to make sure your tone is appropriate and no mistakes have snuck through.

Embrace the subject line: Many emails are missed because the subject line was empty or meant nothing to the receiver. Writing these attention-grabbing nuggets can be tricky, but if you simply summarize the message, you’ll do fine. Just remember to keep them under 5-8 words so they fit on mobile displays.

Be smart with attachments: Keep attachments small – under 2MB – as they can clog up the email server. For larger attachments, share the file location as a link using cloud storage. When you’re sent an attachment you’d like to keep, save the file and then delete the email. And as always, be careful with unexpected attachments, especially from unknown senders. It’s more important than ever to scan all attachments with an antivirus before opening.

Keep your CC/BCC under control: The carbon copy (CC) and blind carbon copy (BCC) let you send the email to additional stakeholders, more as an FYI than anything else. As a rule, use BCC if you’re using an email list or privacy is an issue. But before you add extra people to the email, make sure the email IS relevant to them. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a pointless email chain!

Call me at  828-290-8237 for help with your business email.